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A question in Tolkien Criticism

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  • Stolzi@aol.com
    I am reading Thomas J. Gasque s essay, Tolkien: the Monsters and the Critters. In it he says: In his 1936 Gollancz Memorial Lecture, J.R.R. Tolkien makes
    Message 1 of 9 , Sep 25, 2003
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      I am reading Thomas J. Gasque's essay, "Tolkien: the Monsters and the
      Critters."

      In it he says:

      "In his 1936 Gollancz Memorial Lecture, J.R.R. Tolkien makes this curious and
      not fully elaborated statement:

      'It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that ... put
      the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a
      potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage .... So potent is it, that
      while the older southern imagination has faded for ever into literary
      ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own
      times.'

      "What Tolkien may well have had in his mind when he spoke of 'the power ...
      to revive its spirit ... in our own times' was his own use of the northern
      imagination in THE HOBBIT ... and in THE LORD OF THE RINGS ...."

      Really!? I had just read the lecture (BEOWULF: THE MONSTER AND THE CRITICS)
      myself, and when I got to the present lines, I rather thought he was
      referring to a "terrible" solution of "naked will and courage" proposed bythe German
      Nazi ethos; this was 1936, after all. He must have known of the Nazi efforts
      to revive the German myths. But perhaps the reference is not pejorative enough
      (he always detested the Nazis, whatever his love for "northernness").
      However, he could also have meant that naked will and courage in resistance to
      overpowering monsters would be the lot of those who =resisted= the Nazis.

      Any thoughts here?


      Diamond Proudbrook



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    • WendellWag@aol.com
      ... If by the strength of the northern mythological imagination Tolkien was referring to the Nazis, wouldn t the southern mythological imagination then
      Message 2 of 9 , Sep 25, 2003
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        In a message dated 9/25/2003 11:48:48 AM Eastern Daylight Time, Stolzi writes:

        > 'It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that ... put
        > the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a
        > potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage .... So potent is it, that
        > while the older southern imagination has faded for ever into literary
        > ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its
        > spirit even in our own
        > times.'

        If by the strength of the "northern mythological imagination" Tolkien was referring to the Nazis, wouldn't the "southern mythological imagination" then refer to the Fascists in Italy? Naziism was no closer to the spirit of Norse mythology than Fascism was to Roman mythology. In which case, in what sense in 1936 had the northern imagination been revived while the southern had faded?

        Wendell Wagner
      • Stolzi@aol.com
        In a message dated 9/25/2003 2:05:20 PM Central Daylight Time, ... Not in Tolkien s mind, at any rate, because he says the southern imagination has faded
        Message 3 of 9 , Sep 25, 2003
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          In a message dated 9/25/2003 2:05:20 PM Central Daylight Time,
          WendellWag@... writes:


          > If by the strength of the "northern mythological imagination" Tolkien was
          > referring to the Nazis, wouldn't the "southern mythological imagination" then
          > refer to the Fascists in Italy?

          Not in Tolkien's mind, at any rate, because he says the southern imagination
          has "faded forever."

          Naziism was no closer to the spirit of Norse mythology than Fascism was to
          > Roman mythology.

          That's not what Hitler - or the Wagner family - thought at the time.

          Italian Fascism, I suggest, called not on Greco-Roman mythology, but on the
          theme of the Roman Imperium - Caesar and all that.

          Please understand, I'm not defending my interp as necessarily right, but I
          don't think you have made the case against it here.

          Diamond Proudbrook



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        • Carl F. Hostetter
          I think Tolkien s application is evident from what immediately follows the excerpt given by Thomas Gasque: [The strength of the northern mythological
          Message 4 of 9 , Sep 25, 2003
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            I think Tolkien's application is evident from what immediately follows
            the excerpt given by Thomas Gasque:

            "[The strength of the northern mythological imagination] can work, even
            as it did work with the _godhlauss_ viking, without gods: martial
            heroism as its own end. But we may remember that the poet of _Beowulf_
            saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death."

            Note too this passage in the corresponding part of draft "B" of the
            essay:

            "... the Germanic North created specially the _hero_. Though the word
            we use in English is Greek ... the notion we have of it is rather
            Germanic than Greek." (Drout, _Beowulf & the Critics_, p. 128)

            Surely Tolkien was thinking of the "martial heroism" -- and its wages
            -- that he and his generation had witnessed and participated in in what
            was then known as the Great War.
          • David S. Bratman
            ... It s what Tolkien thought. I have in this War a burning private grudge against that ruddly little ignoramus Adolf Hitler, he wrote in 1941. Ruining,
            Message 5 of 9 , Sep 25, 2003
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              At 03:41 PM 9/25/2003 , Stolzi@... wrote:
              >> Naziism was no closer to the spirit of Norse mythology than Fascism was to
              >> Roman mythology.
              >
              >That's not what Hitler - or the Wagner family - thought at the time.

              It's what Tolkien thought. "I have in this War a burning private grudge
              against that ruddly little ignoramus Adolf Hitler," he wrote in 1941.
              "Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble
              northern spirit which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true
              light." (Letter #45)

              - David Bratman
            • Stolzi@aol.com
              In a message dated 9/26/2003 1:19:48 AM Central Daylight Time, ... Thanks for bringing us the reference, David. Hitler of course DID think he had the true
              Message 6 of 9 , Sep 26, 2003
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                In a message dated 9/26/2003 1:19:48 AM Central Daylight Time,
                dbratman@... writes:


                > At 03:41 PM 9/25/2003 , Stolzi@... wrote:
                > >> Naziism was no closer to the spirit of Norse mythology than Fascism was
                > to
                > >> Roman mythology.
                > >
                > >That's not what Hitler - or the Wagner family - thought at the time.
                >
                > It's what Tolkien thought. "I have in this War a burning private grudge
                > against that ruddly little ignoramus Adolf Hitler," he wrote in 1941.
                > "Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble
                > northern spirit which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true
                > light." (Letter #45)

                Thanks for bringing us the reference, David.

                Hitler of course DID think he had the true northern spirit. If we assume
                from this that Tolkien's reference in the Lecture was =favorable=, then of
                course he wasn't talking about the Nazi would-be revival.

                But the language seems ambiguous (as Gasque says) and I see Aelfwine has
                interpreted the reference also in a somewhat unfavorable sense, though he links it
                to the slaughter of the BEF rather than to the much-vaunted "Will" of Hitler
                and Co.

                I guess we have to let this one rest unresolved.


                Diamond Proudbrook



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              • David S. Bratman
                Tolkien s clearest explication of what he meant by the Northern spirit might be in the essay portions of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm s Son . Here
                Message 7 of 9 , Sep 26, 2003
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                  Tolkien's clearest explication of what he meant by the Northern spirit
                  might be in the essay portions of "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
                  Beorhthelm's Son". Here Tolkien distinguishes clearly between disapproval
                  of Beorhtnoth's _ofermod_ and approval of the hard if fatalistic fighting
                  spirit of the men bound to follow him.

                  "Even ultimate defeat does not turn good into evil," Gandalf or someone
                  says in LOTR, and that's why Theoden, and later the Lords of the West in
                  their march against Mordor, fight against the expectation of defeat:
                  they're expressing the Northern spirit without anybody's _ofermod_ to
                  confuse the issue.

                  It also differs from Hitler's Gotterdammerung in that Hitler was trying to
                  pull down everything around him in sheer spitefulness. The closest thing
                  to that in Tolkien is the suicide of Denethor, quite different from the
                  self-sacrifice of many others, even Boromir.

                  On the subject of critics misinterpreting the Inklings as praising the
                  Nazis, I'm reminded of A.N. Wilson's misreading of a Lewis letter. The
                  letter criticized Nazi aesthetics, but Wilson misread it as sharing them.
                  Somebody must have whispered in Wilson's ear, though, because the whole
                  passage disappeared in the softcover edition of his biography.

                  - David Bratman
                • Carl F. Hostetter
                  ... I link it _partly_ to that slaughter, in that it was among the manifestations and consequences of the northern-spirited martial heroism that Tolkien saw
                  Message 8 of 9 , Sep 26, 2003
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                    On Sep 26, 2003, at 10:56 AM, Stolzi@... wrote:

                    > I see Aelfwine has interpreted the reference also in a somewhat
                    > unfavorable sense, though he links it to the slaughter of the BEF
                    > rather than to the much-vaunted "Will" of Hitler and Co.

                    I link it _partly_ to that slaughter, in that it was among the
                    manifestations and consequences of the northern-spirited "martial
                    heroism" that Tolkien saw in his own time. But I do not link it _only_
                    to that, any more than Tolkien would have linked Beowulf's own martial
                    heroism only to his death at the hands/claws/jaws of the dragon.
                    Indeed, the point that Tolkien is making is that _northern_ heroism is
                    characterized by willingness to sacrifice one's life even in the face
                    of certain defeat -- and defeat is the one certainty within the circles
                    of this world, as both the northern pagans and the Christians Tolkien
                    is comparing recognized -- simply because it is the right thing for Man
                    to do: to struggle and persevere against the Monsters.


                    --
                    =============================================
                    Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

                    ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
                    Ars longa, vita brevis.
                    The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
                    "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
                    a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
                  • Stolzi@aol.com
                    Seems to me that the British in WWI - at least, the ones who weren t totally disaffected by it all (War Poets) - would have thought of themselves not so much
                    Message 9 of 9 , Sep 27, 2003
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                      Seems to me that the British in WWI - at least, the ones who weren't totally
                      disaffected by it all (War Poets) - would have thought of themselves not so
                      much as Northern, as representing "the forces of Christian civilization" -
                      everything all the way from Jerusalem through Rome and Europe to the North -
                      against Barbarism from the East - they even called the Germans "the Hun." This
                      although the Kaiser by no means disavowed Judeo-Christian civilization in the
                      way that Hitler did, and though the German atrocities in -that- war were largely
                      propaganda inventions iirc. I think of Belloc: "Europe is the Faith, the
                      Faith is Europe."

                      There was not nearly the sense of a "desperate and possibly losing last
                      stand", I think, that the British had in the later conflict - Dunkirk, the Battle
                      of Britain, and "we shall fight them on the beaches..." etc. - a conflict
                      which hadn't yet happened when Tolkien delivered BEOWULF: THE MONSTER AND THE
                      CRITICS.


                      Diamond Proudbrook



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