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Re: [mythsoc] Silmarillion as beloved book of childhood

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  • Walter Padgett
    ... Kant, I have been told, said that there are more degrees than categories. I spent a lot of time trying to discover and explain why _The Silmarillion_, for
    Message 1 of 18 , Sep 8, 2007
      On 9/6/07, Carl F. Hostetter <Aelfwine@...> wrote:
      >
      >
      > On Sep 6, 2007, at 2:01 AM, David Bratman wrote:
      > > I know others, some of them on this list, for whom the Silmarillion is
      > > their favorite Tolkien. Speak up, now!
      > >
      >
      > I recognize that _The Lord of the Rings_ is Tolkien's masterpiece;
      > but _The Silmarillion_ is absolutely my favorite of his books, for
      > its astonishing scope and profundity and piercing beauties.
      >
      > Carl
      >

      Kant, I have been told, said that there are more degrees than
      categories. I spent a lot of time trying to discover and explain why
      _The Silmarillion_, for me, has to be categorized as something other
      than a book. Of course, it is my favorite. But that can't account
      for what it does for me (I should say psychologically, or emotionally
      (if not spiritually)). Part of the reason _The Silmarillion_ is such
      a powerful account is that it encompases and exposes a singularly
      concieved ontology, one in which the stories of _The Hobbit_ and _The
      Lord of the Rings_ are played out. Knowing and loving those stories
      (or *that* story*) is prerequisite, is seems to me, to an ultimately
      meaningful reading of _The Silmarillion_ and a consequential
      realtionship.

      Why did I read and re-read all those books? To what extent have they
      shaped or structured my understanding of the world? And how could the
      operation of that effect be explained? That's what I've tried to
      theorize, however inadequately.

      I loved _The Hobbit_ in childhood, which in my case streached into
      adolescence. I re-read it much the same way I re-watched Star Wars,
      for the drama and excitement of such things as Dragons and Darth
      Vaders, light sabers and glowing swords-- magic rings that bestow
      invisibility on their wearer. Cool!

      At some point, early in my teens, I read _The Lord of the Rings_, and
      of course it was even better than _The Hobbit_, which at that point
      was clearly Tolkien's book for children. I think I re-read LotR many
      times because it was like Star Trek, in the sense that I knew that I
      would get something different out of it, something wonderful and new,
      on each new reading. It proves to be so, as I grow and am able to
      bring more of myself to the reading. It's a great story that teaches
      about sacrafice and heroism, about wisdom and power and so many other
      things. For me, it was a kind of an intellectual birth. It was an
      effort to read these books. My vocabulary began to become populated
      with words voiced only by intellectuals. I emerged from these
      readings a more thoughtful and circumspect individual, considering
      both the seen and the unseen aspects, influences and consequences in
      the world around me. I could not see all. I can not see all, of
      course. But I began to become more aware of things I thougt of as
      metaphysical laws, for example, and the operation of moral force. I
      mean, the fact that it was pity, in the end, that saved Frodo
      enlightened me on a larger scale than I had ever seriously considered
      how a moral value can work in the world, even if it's not my "real"
      world, but only Tolkien's fictionally distilled version.

      I'm a simple man, you know-- not a gifted or natural intellectual.
      But coming to it the way I did, I think _The Silmarillion_ is even
      more of an adult book than _The Lord of the Rings_. The notion of it
      being a "childhood favorite" is really kind of silly. It's like
      saying the Bible is a childhood favorite. One could say, "Sure, the
      Bible was one of my childhood favorites," but my question would be,
      "Why?" Is it the sense of the numinous, or the idea of a man being
      swallowed by a whale, or Daniel in the Lion's den?

      I think you only really get the appropriate preparation for a truly
      meaningful reading of _The Silmarillion_ through a thurough and
      careful consideration of the earlier works. The theological and
      philosophical sensibilties it renders seem calibrated to resolve and
      enhance the conflicts and contradictions often experienced by the
      growing intellectual.

      What do you think about that?

      Walter.
    • Anthony and Jessica
      Greetings all, Thank you David et al for this thread, I modified the subject of this post to Smith rather than Silmarillion as it originally had been, call me
      Message 2 of 18 , Oct 22, 2007
        Greetings all,
        Thank you David et al for this thread, I modified the subject of this
        post to Smith rather than Silmarillion as it originally had been, call
        me a lil behind but I am not just getting to Flieger's Smith and the
        incredible essay that Tolkien wrote in regards to Smith. Some fleeting
        thoughts regarding it, has there ever been a study done since its
        release or reviews of this piece? At first when I ready somewhere that
        it was a writer saying goodbye to his art, I related this to his 1951
        letter to Milton Waldman (though not dated according to Carpenter)
        that "[Tolkien's] crest has long since fallen." He felt this as early
        as 1951 and is writing a goodbye to his art in his last story of
        Smith. Yes? No? Maybe so?
        I also love the examination of our view on enchantment as part of
        human development, this has so much to say and I will have more
        concise thoughts on it after a second read, but I find this all
        fascinating and inspiring, how can we as writers broaden the appeal
        and relation this has to human growth, continue with our own art? SO
        many people miss the point of Art and thank you David for clarifying
        so well that as we know Tolkien is different from run of the mill
        fantasists, he gives us access to his world and allows us to run with
        the fellowship, Lewis brings his world through portals to us, and
        Williams contemporary supernatural tales are here and now in modernity--
        I may have run too long in thought but will share more clearly for
        this essay was just so fulfilling to read and write about in my notes,
        which I will share in my review of it...

        Anthony


        --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, David Bratman <dbratman@...> wrote:
        >
        > Fascinating, especially considering where the comment occurred. I'm old
        > enough, though Prof. Wilson (who read the Silmarillion in childhood)
        > presumably is not, to remember the uncomprehending and dismissive
        review of
        > that book in that very magazine.
        >
        > I know others, some of them on this list, for whom the Silmarillion is
        > their favorite Tolkien. Speak up, now!
        >
        > My own favorite? Smith of Wootton Major. It's the essence of what
        makes
        > Tolkien different from run of the mill fantasists, the perfect
        distillation
        > of the distinction between Elfland and Poughkeepsie (in the terms of Le
        > Guin, another writer who really gets it).
        >
        >
        > At 04:44 PM 9/5/2007 -0400, Ernest Davis wrote:
        >
        > >Interesting comment in an article in this week's New Republic:
        > >
        > >[Hesiod's] Theogony was even more disappointing. Here were the great
        > >tales of the clash of the Titans with the Olympian gods, the formation
        > >of Chaos, Earth, and Sky --- but all lacking the sense of the numinous
        > >that I had glimpsed in Milton and Blake, or for that matter in
        > >Tolkien's Silmarillion and Roger Lancelot Green's Old Greek Fairy
        > >Tales, the beloved books of my childhood.
        > >
        > >--- Emily Wilson, "Early Harvest", Review of a new translation of
        > >Hesiod by Glenn Most
        > >
        > >Emily Wilson, incidentally, teaches classics at U. Penn.
        > >
        > >My nephew has been telling us since he was 14 that he preferred the
        > >Silmarillion to LotR, but apparently it's a more common taste than
        I would
        > >have guessed.
        >
      • Jason Fisher
        ... Anthony, I couldn t agree more on the new edition. I m not sure exactly what sort of study you might be looking for, but I published a piece you might be
        Message 3 of 18 , Oct 22, 2007
          > Thank you David et al for this thread, I modified the subject
          > of this post to Smith [...] had been, call me a lil behind but
          > I am now just getting to Flieger's Smith and the incredible
          > essay that Tolkien wrote in regards to Smith. Some fleeting
          > thoughts regarding it, has there ever been a study done
          > since its release or reviews of this piece?

          Anthony,

          I couldn't agree more on the new edition. I'm not sure exactly what sort of study you might be looking for, but I published a piece you might be interested in tracking down. You'll already know some of what I discuss, having now read Flieger's edition; but I also undertake some (perfunctory) comparison of Tolkien's fiction for children with MacDonald's, and I even dare to venture some character analysis of Tolkien, vis-�-vis the souring of his attitude toward MacDonald. I'd be curious for any feedback if you end up reading it. It appears very few people subscribe to the journal of the George MacDonald Society � forgive me stifling a snicker at that. ;)

          The piece is:
          Fisher, Jason. �Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien�s Smith of Wootton Major.� North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies 25 (2006): 113-20.

          Best,
          Jason

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • David Bratman
          ... I ll just bet you do. I m looking forward to seeing the article. Do you venture ideas of exactly what it is in MacDonald that earned Tolkien s distaste?
          Message 4 of 18 , Oct 22, 2007
            Jason Fisher <visualweasel@...> wrote:

            >I also undertake some (perfunctory) comparison of
            >Tolkien's fiction for children with MacDonald's, and
            >I even dare to venture some character analysis of
            >Tolkien, vis-à-vis the souring of his attitude toward MacDonald.

            I'll just bet you do. I'm looking forward to seeing the article. Do you venture ideas of exactly what it is in MacDonald that earned Tolkien's distaste?
          • Jason Fisher
            ... I suppose it depends on just what you mean by exactly , hahae. But yes, I take a stab at it. As much as an eight-page comparison permitted — and as much
            Message 5 of 18 , Oct 22, 2007
              > --- David Bratman wrote ---
              > I'm looking forward to seeing the article. Do you venture
              > ideas of exactly what it is in MacDonald that earned
              > Tolkien's distaste?

              I suppose it depends on just what you mean by "exactly", hahae. But yes, I take a stab at it. As much as an eight-page comparison permitted — and as much as the evidence available to me supported. It's a jumping-off point for further, more involved research I would like to complete on the subject. Maybe it will spark some wider interest in comparative studies of the two as well. I hope so.

              And I will certainly welcome any thoughts — complimentary or critical — when you get a chance to read it, David.

              Jason
            • William Cloud Hicklin
              Although my teeneaged self pre-ordered the Silmarillion and even marked on the calendar the day I could triumphantly collect it at Waldenbooks, and I loved it
              Message 6 of 18 , Oct 23, 2007
                Although my teeneaged self pre-ordered the Silmarillion
                and even marked on the calendar the day I could
                triumphantly collect it at Waldenbooks, and I loved it
                from the start (unlike, I expect, many< I didn't then
                fully apprecioate it. It took perhaps collegiate study
                in both philosophy and Old English to enable deeper
                levels of understanding.

                I think for a considerable time I valued the Sil as too
                many still do: as mere backstory to The LR, the
                Appendices extended, an infodump, a mine of trivia.
                Substantial appreciation of its grandeur as a whole, of
                the elegance of its convoluted web of cause and long-
                delayed effect, of its powerful meditations on the nature
                of Evil, really began to dawn when I read it on a long,
                long deployment at sea in the Navy.

                Nowadays I don't believe the two can be ranked relative
                to one another: they are simply too different. I suppose
                that if one views The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien's 9th
                Symphony, glorious, uplifting, at times ferocious,
                inspiring, spiritual, but nonetheless 'popular'; then the
                Sil is his Late Quartets: spare, un-'popular',
                discursive, numinous in a manner harder to pin down,
                uncompromisingly driven by its own unique internal
                logic...and unfinished.
              • Walter Padgett
                Wow. That s really heavy. That s the best thing I ve read all day. Thanks for rendering so eloquently your profound appreciation. I especially like your
                Message 7 of 18 , Oct 23, 2007
                  Wow. That's really heavy. That's the best thing I've read all day.

                  Thanks for rendering so eloquently your profound appreciation.

                  I especially like your observation of "the elegance of its convoluted
                  web of cause and long-delayed effect."

                  I feel that _The Silmarillion_ is like a fine wine, or maybe a fine
                  esoteric blend of tobacco, or chese or something like that. First
                  you've got to develop a taste for that, and then as your sensibilities
                  become more refined your appreciation of it becomes more substantial.

                  There seems something quite romantic about your experience with _The
                  Silmarillion_ on that long deployment at sea.

                  Wonderful.

                  On 10/23/07, William Cloud Hicklin <solicitr@...> wrote:
                  >
                  >
                  > Although my teeneaged self pre-ordered the Silmarillion
                  > and even marked on the calendar the day I could
                  > triumphantly collect it at Waldenbooks, and I loved it
                  > from the start (unlike, I expect, many< I didn't then
                  > fully apprecioate it. It took perhaps collegiate study
                  > in both philosophy and Old English to enable deeper
                  > levels of understanding.
                  >
                  > I think for a considerable time I valued the Sil as too
                  > many still do: as mere backstory to The LR, the
                  > Appendices extended, an infodump, a mine of trivia.
                  > Substantial appreciation of its grandeur as a whole, of
                  > the elegance of its convoluted web of cause and long-
                  > delayed effect, of its powerful meditations on the nature
                  > of Evil, really began to dawn when I read it on a long,
                  > long deployment at sea in the Navy.
                  >
                  > Nowadays I don't believe the two can be ranked relative
                  > to one another: they are simply too different. I suppose
                  > that if one views The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien's 9th
                  > Symphony, glorious, uplifting, at times ferocious,
                  > inspiring, spiritual, but nonetheless 'popular'; then the
                  > Sil is his Late Quartets: spare, un-'popular',
                  > discursive, numinous in a manner harder to pin down,
                  > uncompromisingly driven by its own unique internal
                  > logic...and unfinished.
                  >
                  >
                • William Cloud Hicklin
                  ... your experience with _The ... Well, there s an added resonance to all the stuff about Ulmo and water when there s nothing to look at but ocean, day after
                  Message 8 of 18 , Oct 24, 2007
                    --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Walter
                    Padgett" <wpadgett@...> wrote:

                    > There seems something quite romantic about
                    your experience with _The
                    > Silmarillion_ on that long deployment at sea.
                    >


                    Well, there's an added resonance to all the stuff about
                    Ulmo and water when there's nothing to look at but ocean,
                    day after day after day....... :)
                  • Walter Padgett
                    I thought it was MacDonald s grand-fatherly uncular stance that earned Tolkien s distaste, and that Tolkien saw some of this in his own writing in _The
                    Message 9 of 18 , Oct 25, 2007
                      I thought it was MacDonald's grand-fatherly "uncular" stance that earned
                      Tolkien's distaste, and that Tolkien saw some of this in his own writing in
                      _The Hobbit_, detesting it all the more. But where I read that, I can't
                      remember.

                      On 10/22/07, Jason Fisher <visualweasel@...> wrote:
                      >
                      > > --- David Bratman wrote ---
                      > > I'm looking forward to seeing the article. Do you venture
                      > > ideas of exactly what it is in MacDonald that earned
                      > > Tolkien's distaste?
                      >
                      > I suppose it depends on just what you mean by "exactly", hahae. But yes, I
                      > take a stab at it. As much as an eight-page comparison permitted � and as
                      > much as the evidence available to me supported. It's a jumping-off point for
                      > further, more involved research I would like to complete on the subject.
                      > Maybe it will spark some wider interest in comparative studies of the two as
                      > well. I hope so.
                      >
                      > And I will certainly welcome any thoughts � complimentary or critical �
                      > when you get a chance to read it, David.
                      >
                      > Jason
                      >
                      >


                      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                    • Walter Padgett
                      Oops! the word is avuncular (`_ ;) ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      Message 10 of 18 , Oct 25, 2007
                        Oops! the word is "avuncular" (`_';)






                        On 10/25/07, Walter Padgett <wpadgett@...> wrote:
                        >
                        > I thought it was MacDonald's grand-fatherly "uncular" stance that earned
                        > Tolkien's distaste, and that Tolkien saw some of this in his own writing in
                        > _The Hobbit_, detesting it all the more. But where I read that, I can't
                        > remember.
                        >
                        > On 10/22/07, Jason Fisher <visualweasel@...> wrote:
                        > >
                        > > > --- David Bratman wrote ---
                        > > > I'm looking forward to seeing the article. Do you venture
                        > > > ideas of exactly what it is in MacDonald that earned
                        > > > Tolkien's distaste?
                        > >
                        > > I suppose it depends on just what you mean by "exactly", hahae. But yes,
                        > > I take a stab at it. As much as an eight-page comparison permitted � and as
                        > > much as the evidence available to me supported. It's a jumping-off point for
                        > > further, more involved research I would like to complete on the subject.
                        > > Maybe it will spark some wider interest in comparative studies of the two as
                        > > well. I hope so.
                        > >
                        > > And I will certainly welcome any thoughts � complimentary or critical �
                        > > when you get a chance to read it, David.
                        > >
                        > > Jason
                        > >
                        > >
                        >
                        >


                        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      • Vincent Ferré
                        and do not forget Gandalf, in The Lord..., according to his depiction by Tolkien : Though he may seem testy at times, has a sense of humour, and adopts a
                        Message 11 of 18 , Oct 25, 2007
                          and do not forget Gandalf, in The Lord..., according to his depiction by
                          Tolkien :

                          "Though he may seem testy at times, has a sense of humour, and adopts a
                          somewhat avuncular attitude to hobbits, he is a person of high and noble
                          authority, and great dignity. The description on I p. 239 should never be
                          forgotten"
                          (Letters #210)

                          Vincent

                          >
                          I thought it was MacDonald's grand-fatherly "uncular" stance that earned
                          Tolkien's distaste, and that Tolkien saw some of this in his own writing in
                          _The Hobbit_, detesting it all the more. But where I read that, I can't
                          remember.
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