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Re: religion in Tolkien

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  • Cristina
    For those interested in religious themes in LOTR, the letters are a good source. Another source, already mentioned by someone else in this list, is Peter
    Message 1 of 22 , Oct 14, 2010
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      For those interested in religious themes in LOTR, the letters are a good source.

      Another source, already mentioned by someone else in this list, is Peter Kreeft's "Philosophy of Tolkien". The weakness of that book is that some details cited from LOTR are inaccurate, but Peter Kreeft's insights are superb. I also recommend "Tolkien: Man and Myth" by Joseph Pearce.

      There's this other book, "Sanctifying Myth" by Bradley Birzer but reviews of that book are mixed. But I mention it because you might want to read it and decide for yourself whether it helps.

      Another book that touches on religious themes in JRRT's writings is "Lord of the Elves and the Eldils" by Richard Purtill. I haven't read that book, though, so I can't comment on it.

      --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, Ellen <carnimiriel@...> wrote:
      >
      > I've been reading these book suggestions with interest, because I'm
      > scheduled to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of
      > the month with the following topic. Note that I did not have any part
      > in coming up with this topic or its wording:
      > ---
      > Why is There No Religion in Middle Earth? Lin Carter used to argue about
      > this. Why are there no priests and temples in Tolkien's world? Is it
      > because Tolkien was squeamish about paganism (made up gods) or is there
      > a more profound explanation?
      > ---
      > For starters, I don't think the question really works as framed. I
      > don't think one can claim that there is no religion in Middle Earth, so
      > this is one of the first things I'd address. What I would assume is
      > meant is something more like, "why did the characters in LotR not
      > participate in organized worship?" I have not read Lin Carter's work
      > but have requested it from my local library. However, from what I've
      > read I'm not sure how worthwhile it is as a source, since he wrote it
      > well before the publication of The Silmarillion or Tolkien's letters.
      > Can anyone who has read Lin Carter's "Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of
      > the RIngs" comment on this?
      >
      > My sources I am prepared to discuss are Tolkien's letters, particularly
      > the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings from September 1954 (p. 152 in
      > my edition), the biography by Humphrey Carpenter, and of course LotR and
      > The Silmarillion. I'm also taking another look at "Morgoth's Ring"
      > because if I recall correctly, there is some relevant information in the
      > section on the Laws and Customs of the Eldar. It's been a while since I
      > read HoME.
      >
      > Are there other sources I should check out before the panel? Of the
      > books suggested on the subject in this thread, is there one in
      > particular that might be useful? Keep in mind that this is a panel
      > discussion and I'm sure the other panelists will bring some interesting
      > things to the discussion, and I don't have much time between now and then.
      >
      > Thanks,
      >
      > Ellen Denham
      >
      > On 10/14/10 2:06 PM, Margaret L. Carter wrote:
      > >
      > > Doubtless most of you have read Gracia Fay Ellwood's 1970 book GOOD
      > > NEWS FROM TOLKIEN'S MIDDLE EARTH? Amazon has a handful of used copies.
      > >
      > > Margaret Carter
      > >
      > >
      >
    • David Bratman
      If we re going to respond to Lin Carter - which I am about to do at considerable length - we need to have at hand what he actually said. Carter s contentious
      Message 2 of 22 , Oct 14, 2010
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        If we're going to respond to Lin Carter - which I am about to do at
        considerable length - we need to have at hand what he actually said.

        Carter's contentious comments on religion in Tolkien appeared only briefly
        in his 1969 book on Tolkien, which was focused on placing LOTR in the
        context of the history of fantasy literature, rather than on evaluating
        Tolkien's work. But his 1973 book _Imaginary Worlds_ was a history of
        fantasy, and its view of Tolkien was focused on evaluating his achievement
        in that context. LOTR had been so widely praised that Carter felt there was
        room to emphasize what he saw as the book's flaws, and one of the things he
        said was this: When he writes that "Tolkien's world has no religion in it,"
        Iluvatar and the Valar don't count.

        "That is not what I am talking about," he writes. "A religion is much more
        than just the presence of an actual god, or gods; it is also an established
        canon of inspired writings and an organized priesthood, a system of temples
        and shrines, and so on." Medieval societies of the kind Tolkien used as
        models had such an organized religion, he says, and other fantasies inspired
        by them have had them to. Then he gives a long list of examples, from Conan
        the Barbarian on up. "But there is no religion at all in _The Lord of the
        Rings_ - no temples, shrines, priests, prayers, amulets, scriptures, ikons,
        idols - _nothing!_ None of the many characters, not even the heroic
        warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no
        gods. Which is simply incredible in a primitive world of wizards and
        warriors and walled stone cities." (Imaginary Worlds, p. 122-24)

        The first thing that occurs to me to say in response to this is, "By
        Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"
        which is what Frodo says to the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. Luthien, or
        even Elbereth, may not technically be gods, but from a Catholic author they
        are definitely serving the function of angels or saints in this context.
        Anyway, so much for characters not swearing by them. There are other
        examples; this one is particularly memorable.

        Secondly, Carter has a rather limited idea of what an organized religion
        requires. The medieval Norse, for instance, did not have any canon of
        inspired writings that we know of. Their legends and poems about the gods
        and heroes were neither canonized nor considered sacred texts the way we
        consider the Bible. The Jews, after the fall of the Temple, simply
        abandoned the heriditary priesthood that had served them before that; even
        today, rabbis are not really "clergy" in the sense that Christians use that
        word; a rabbi is a learned man, not a priest. Some Asian religions, I
        believe, do without temples and shrines, and the diaspora Jews also rank low
        on that scale.

        The peoples of Middle-earth, however, do have some of the "and so on" which
        Carter doesn't enumerate. If they don't have a canonized scripture, they do
        have the kind of stories of the gods and heroes of the past that customarily
        appear in scriptures, even a creation myth (though Carter didn't have access
        to this one, as it first appeared in _The Silmarillion_ which hadn't been
        published when he wrote). They have some rituals, notably the moment of
        silence before eating that Faramir and his men perform at Henneth Annun.
        This, Faramir explains, is a gesture of respect towards Eldamar and Valinor,
        so they also have a holy place. They have funerary customs and respect the
        dead, a common religious practice. And, as Carter would say, so on.

        What they have more than any of this, however, are aspects of religion that
        are not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. These are the moral and spiritual
        content of religious belief, which underlie every action the admirable
        characters take, and indeed drive the whole plot, because it is a spiritual
        concern to rid the world of an evil menace, and not a practical
        consideration to defeat the bad guy in the black hat, that inspires the
        decision to destroy the Ring, rather than - as practical men like Boromir
        would prefer - use it. I hardly need to go into this here, as so many
        authors have done so brilliantly. The best source for this purpose is
        Richard Purtill's _Lord of the Elves and Eldils_, because like Carter he was
        writing before _The Silmarillion_ and proves his case, rather dazzlingly,
        from LOTR alone. (Ellwood's _Good News from Middle-earth_, the other
        pre-Silmarillion religious study of Tolkien, is a hunt for Christ figures
        and new-age woo-woo, and even if you want such things, would not be suitable
        for countering Carter.) Of more recent books on Tolkien's religious
        dimension that consider the posthumous writings, I'd say the best ones which
        still focus mostly on LOTR are _The Battle for Middle-earth_ by Fleming
        Rutledge and _Following Gandalf_ by Matthew Dickerson. (The Birzer and
        Caldecott books mentioned by others are OK, but these are much better.)

        So the answer to Carter is that he's framed his question wrongly - what
        Tolkien lacks is not religion, it's colorful religious trappings - and even
        taken as Carter frames it, his charge is not entirely true. But
        nevertheless, his observations are not entirely hallucinatory, so we can
        also raise the questions of whether what he sees is, as he claims, "simply
        incredible," and of why Tolkien writes it this way. But these are further
        observations on the topic, not directly answers to Carter, because they
        attempt only to explain the case; they don't answer it.

        From an external, author-based perspective, we can say that Tolkien couldn't
        have his pre-Christian characters be Christians, for obvious chronological
        reasons, but he didn't want to have them worshipping false gods, so he made
        them the virtuous pagans of (mostly hypothetical) Christian theology. Some
        of the authors on religion in Tolkien go into this point.

        From an internal, character-based perspective, though, there's an answer so
        breath-taking that, again, it is not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. The
        reason his pagan warriors don't worship false gods is that, through the
        Elves, and they through the Valar, have unfiltered access to the truth about
        the spiritual universe. (The truth as Tolkien sees it, of course, but as an
        author he has the right to make his Catholic theology the unfettered truth
        within his own fiction.) They don't need false gods; they have the real
        God. They don't need priests and rituals and so on; they have a closeness
        to the divine that few today are fortunate enough to experience. That
        palpable sense is part of what makes LOTR such an inspiring book.

        That's what I would say if I were on Ellen's panel, and I hope it helps.

        David Bratman
      • John Rateliff
        Hi Ellen If you can, listen to Tolkien s thirty-minute radio interview with Denis Gueroult, where G. asks him this very question and gets a pretty good answer,
        Message 3 of 22 , Oct 14, 2010
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          Hi Ellen
             If you can, listen to Tolkien's thirty-minute radio interview with Denis Gueroult, where G. asks him this very question and gets a pretty good answer, direct from the horse's mouth.
             --JDR


          On Oct 14, 2010, at 3:08 PM, Ellen wrote:
          I've been reading these book suggestions with interest, because I'm scheduled to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of the month with the following topic.  Note that I did not have any part in coming up with this topic or its wording:
          ---
          Why is There No Religion in Middle Earth? Lin Carter used to argue about this. Why are there no priests and temples in Tolkien's world? Is it because Tolkien was squeamish about paganism (made up gods) or is there a more profound explanation?
          ---
          For starters, I don't think the question really works as framed.  I don't think one can claim that there is no religion in Middle Earth, so this is one of the first things I'd address.  What I would assume is meant is something more like, "why did the characters in LotR not participate in organized worship?"  I have not read Lin Carter's work but have requested it from my local library.  However, from what I've read I'm not sure how worthwhile it is as a source, since he wrote it well before the publication of The Silmarillion or Tolkien's letters.  Can anyone who has read Lin Carter's "Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the RIngs" comment on this?

          My sources I am prepared to discuss are Tolkien's letters, particularly the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings from September 1954 (p. 152 in my edition), the biography by Humphrey Carpenter, and of course LotR and The Silmarillion.  I'm also taking another look at "Morgoth's Ring" because if I recall correctly, there is some relevant information in the section on the Laws and Customs of the Eldar.  It's been a while since I read HoME.

          Are there other sources I should check out before the panel?  Of the books suggested on the subject in this thread, is there one in particular that might be useful?  Keep in mind that this is a panel discussion and I'm sure the other panelists will bring some interesting things to the discussion, and I don't have much time between now and then.

          Thanks,

          Ellen Denham
        • John Rateliff
          Thanks all who responded. I ve got a good list to start with now. Dale: I ve read one of Caldecott s books but don t remember if it was this one; I ll check
          Message 4 of 22 , Oct 14, 2010
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            Thanks all who responded. I've got a good list to start with now.
            Dale: I've read one of Caldecott's books but don't remember if it was this one; I'll check when I get back to Kent
            Mike: I'll have to pick up the Milbanks, which I didn't get under the mistaken impression it was mostly about GKC, rather than about them both. Thanks for the review.
            Jef & Christina: I've read the Kreeft, and while he's a good writer with a forceful point of view it bothered me that he seemed to think anything Lewis said could be taken as evidence Tolkien felt exactly the same way on any given issue.
            Margaret: I've read the Ellwood, but that's so many years ago now (thirty?) that the only detail I remember from it is that it's where I learned the word "scry". Time to re-read it.
            Christina: I've read the Pearce, and enjoyed his book -- it was high time someone approached Tolkien from that angle -- but like the Kreeft I thought him too doctrinaire. I've just finished the Birzer, and it was disappointment with it that sparked my initial query (his extensive research does not prevent too-frequent errors of fact, and his occasional insights don't keep him from egregious misinterpretations). The Purtill was one of the few early books I never got around to reading, so I'll see about remedying that.

            No one mentioned the Bruner and Ware: any good? I just started reading Dickerson, who gave a good lecture at the Wade tonight on Tolkien & Lewis & Xian ecology.

            --Thanks again for all the suggestions.

            --John R.




            On Oct 14, 2010, at 8:33 PM, Cristina wrote:

            > For those interested in religious themes in LOTR, the letters are a good source.
            >
            > Another source, already mentioned by someone else in this list, is Peter Kreeft's "Philosophy of Tolkien". The weakness of that book is that some details cited from LOTR are inaccurate, but Peter Kreeft's insights are superb. I also recommend "Tolkien: Man and Myth" by Joseph Pearce.
            >
            > There's this other book, "Sanctifying Myth" by Bradley Birzer but reviews of that book are mixed. But I mention it because you might want to read it and decide for yourself whether it helps.
            >
            > Another book that touches on religious themes in JRRT's writings is "Lord of the Elves and the Eldils" by Richard Purtill. I haven't read that book, though, so I can't comment on it.
            >
            > --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, Ellen <carnimiriel@...> wrote:
            >>
            >> I've been reading these book suggestions with interest, because I'm
            >> scheduled to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of
            >> the month with the following topic. Note that I did not have any part
            >> in coming up with this topic or its wording:
            >> ---
            >> Why is There No Religion in Middle Earth? Lin Carter used to argue about
            >> this. Why are there no priests and temples in Tolkien's world? Is it
            >> because Tolkien was squeamish about paganism (made up gods) or is there
            >> a more profound explanation?
            >> ---
            >> For starters, I don't think the question really works as framed. I
            >> don't think one can claim that there is no religion in Middle Earth, so
            >> this is one of the first things I'd address. What I would assume is
            >> meant is something more like, "why did the characters in LotR not
            >> participate in organized worship?" I have not read Lin Carter's work
            >> but have requested it from my local library. However, from what I've
            >> read I'm not sure how worthwhile it is as a source, since he wrote it
            >> well before the publication of The Silmarillion or Tolkien's letters.
            >> Can anyone who has read Lin Carter's "Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of
            >> the RIngs" comment on this?
            >>
            >> My sources I am prepared to discuss are Tolkien's letters, particularly
            >> the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings from September 1954 (p. 152 in
            >> my edition), the biography by Humphrey Carpenter, and of course LotR and
            >> The Silmarillion. I'm also taking another look at "Morgoth's Ring"
            >> because if I recall correctly, there is some relevant information in the
            >> section on the Laws and Customs of the Eldar. It's been a while since I
            >> read HoME.
            >>
            >> Are there other sources I should check out before the panel? Of the
            >> books suggested on the subject in this thread, is there one in
            >> particular that might be useful? Keep in mind that this is a panel
            >> discussion and I'm sure the other panelists will bring some interesting
            >> things to the discussion, and I don't have much time between now and then.
            >>
            >> Thanks,
            >>
            >> Ellen Denham
            >>
            >> On 10/14/10 2:06 PM, Margaret L. Carter wrote:
            >>>
            >>> Doubtless most of you have read Gracia Fay Ellwood's 1970 book GOOD
            >>> NEWS FROM TOLKIEN'S MIDDLE EARTH? Amazon has a handful of used copies.
            >>>
            >>> Margaret Carter
            >>>
            >>>
            >>
            >
            >
            >
            >
            > ------------------------------------
            >
            > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
            >
            >
            >
          • David Bratman
            John - See also the end of the 7th paragraph of my latest long post, where I give my recommendations, somewhat different from others : Dickerson, Fleming
            Message 5 of 22 , Oct 14, 2010
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              John -

              See also the end of the 7th paragraph of my latest long post, where I give
              my recommendations, somewhat different from others': Dickerson, Fleming
              Rutledge's _The Battle for Middle-earth_ (overlong, clumsily organized,
              repetitive, impatient with Tolkien's discursions, but despite all that very
              good), and the intrepid pioneer Purtill.

              Bruner and Ware isn't really a religious study of Tolkien, but a set of
              sermons inspired on Tolkienian texts (and thus, like most sermons, not
              feeling required to stick to the text). Not bad, because the moral virtues
              they find in his work are really there, but not significant as a Tolkien
              study. Mark Eddy Smith and Sarah Arthur stick closer to Tolkien but are
              otherwise in the same category.


              ----- Original Message -----
              From: "John Rateliff" <sacnoth@...>
              To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
              Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:30 PM
              Subject: [mythsoc] re. religion in Tolkien


              > Thanks all who responded. I've got a good list to start with now.
              > Dale: I've read one of Caldecott's books but don't remember if it was this
              > one; I'll check when I get back to Kent
              > Mike: I'll have to pick up the Milbanks, which I didn't get under the
              > mistaken impression it was mostly about GKC, rather than about them both.
              > Thanks for the review.
              > Jef & Christina: I've read the Kreeft, and while he's a good writer with a
              > forceful point of view it bothered me that he seemed to think anything
              > Lewis said could be taken as evidence Tolkien felt exactly the same way on
              > any given issue.
              > Margaret: I've read the Ellwood, but that's so many years ago now
              > (thirty?) that the only detail I remember from it is that it's where I
              > learned the word "scry". Time to re-read it.
              > Christina: I've read the Pearce, and enjoyed his book -- it was high time
              > someone approached Tolkien from that angle -- but like the Kreeft I
              > thought him too doctrinaire. I've just finished the Birzer, and it was
              > disappointment with it that sparked my initial query (his extensive
              > research does not prevent too-frequent errors of fact, and his occasional
              > insights don't keep him from egregious misinterpretations). The Purtill
              > was one of the few early books I never got around to reading, so I'll see
              > about remedying that.
              >
              > No one mentioned the Bruner and Ware: any good? I just started reading
              > Dickerson, who gave a good lecture at the Wade tonight on Tolkien & Lewis
              > & Xian ecology.
              >
              > --Thanks again for all the suggestions.
              >
              > --John R.
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > On Oct 14, 2010, at 8:33 PM, Cristina wrote:
              >
              >> For those interested in religious themes in LOTR, the letters are a good
              >> source.
              >>
              >> Another source, already mentioned by someone else in this list, is Peter
              >> Kreeft's "Philosophy of Tolkien". The weakness of that book is that some
              >> details cited from LOTR are inaccurate, but Peter Kreeft's insights are
              >> superb. I also recommend "Tolkien: Man and Myth" by Joseph Pearce.
              >>
              >> There's this other book, "Sanctifying Myth" by Bradley Birzer but reviews
              >> of that book are mixed. But I mention it because you might want to read
              >> it and decide for yourself whether it helps.
              >>
              >> Another book that touches on religious themes in JRRT's writings is "Lord
              >> of the Elves and the Eldils" by Richard Purtill. I haven't read that
              >> book, though, so I can't comment on it.
              >>
              >> --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, Ellen <carnimiriel@...> wrote:
              >>>
              >>> I've been reading these book suggestions with interest, because I'm
              >>> scheduled to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of
              >>> the month with the following topic. Note that I did not have any part
              >>> in coming up with this topic or its wording:
              >>> ---
              >>> Why is There No Religion in Middle Earth? Lin Carter used to argue about
              >>> this. Why are there no priests and temples in Tolkien's world? Is it
              >>> because Tolkien was squeamish about paganism (made up gods) or is there
              >>> a more profound explanation?
              >>> ---
              >>> For starters, I don't think the question really works as framed. I
              >>> don't think one can claim that there is no religion in Middle Earth, so
              >>> this is one of the first things I'd address. What I would assume is
              >>> meant is something more like, "why did the characters in LotR not
              >>> participate in organized worship?" I have not read Lin Carter's work
              >>> but have requested it from my local library. However, from what I've
              >>> read I'm not sure how worthwhile it is as a source, since he wrote it
              >>> well before the publication of The Silmarillion or Tolkien's letters.
              >>> Can anyone who has read Lin Carter's "Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of
              >>> the RIngs" comment on this?
              >>>
              >>> My sources I am prepared to discuss are Tolkien's letters, particularly
              >>> the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings from September 1954 (p. 152 in
              >>> my edition), the biography by Humphrey Carpenter, and of course LotR and
              >>> The Silmarillion. I'm also taking another look at "Morgoth's Ring"
              >>> because if I recall correctly, there is some relevant information in the
              >>> section on the Laws and Customs of the Eldar. It's been a while since I
              >>> read HoME.
              >>>
              >>> Are there other sources I should check out before the panel? Of the
              >>> books suggested on the subject in this thread, is there one in
              >>> particular that might be useful? Keep in mind that this is a panel
              >>> discussion and I'm sure the other panelists will bring some interesting
              >>> things to the discussion, and I don't have much time between now and
              >>> then.
              >>>
              >>> Thanks,
              >>>
              >>> Ellen Denham
              >>>
              >>> On 10/14/10 2:06 PM, Margaret L. Carter wrote:
              >>>>
              >>>> Doubtless most of you have read Gracia Fay Ellwood's 1970 book GOOD
              >>>> NEWS FROM TOLKIEN'S MIDDLE EARTH? Amazon has a handful of used copies.
              >>>>
              >>>> Margaret Carter
              >>>>
              >>>>
              >>>
              >>
              >>
              >>
              >>
              >> ------------------------------------
              >>
              >> The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
              >>
              >>
              >>
              >
              >
              >
              > ------------------------------------
              >
              > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
              >
              >
              >
              >
            • dale nelson
              This is very helpful, David. To your second point ( and so on ) I can add only that the faithful of Middle-earth have literal angels, messengers of God, in
              Message 6 of 22 , Oct 15, 2010
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                This is very helpful, David.  To your second point ("and so on") I can add only that the faithful of Middle-earth have literal angels, messengers of God, in their midst, since "Gandalf is an angel," as Tolkien said somewhere in an interview.  Someone can remind me of the source; but I'm sure it had appeared by the time Imaginary Worlds was written, although I'm not sure that Lin Carter saw it.  Granted, Gandalf has idiosyncrasies that we don't usually associate with angels, even after his return from combat (cf. the war in heaven) with the Balrog.  But he appears among the faithful peoples to bring counsel, encouragement, correction, etc.  I actually think Tolkien took the angelic aspect about as far as he could without raising distracting questions among readers.  Similarly, I'm glad that it is not a commonplace of commentary on Tolkien to regard Gandalf as a Melchizedek/Melchisedec figure (the priest-king who appears to Abraham after his victory, etc.).... and so on.  (I don't think it entered Tolkien's mind to see Gandalf as an angel at first, back when he was writing The Hobbit, and I wouldn't care to speculate on when it was that Tolkien "realized" this.) 

                Dale


                From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
                To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                Sent: Thu, October 14, 2010 10:24:20 PM
                Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: religion in Tolkien

                 

                If we're going to respond to Lin Carter - which I am about to do at
                considerable length - we need to have at hand what he actually said.

                Carter's contentious comments on religion in Tolkien appeared only briefly
                in his 1969 book on Tolkien, which was focused on placing LOTR in the
                context of the history of fantasy literature, rather than on evaluating
                Tolkien's work. But his 1973 book _Imaginary Worlds_ was a history of
                fantasy, and its view of Tolkien was focused on evaluating his achievement
                in that context. LOTR had been so widely praised that Carter felt there was
                room to emphasize what he saw as the book's flaws, and one of the things he
                said was this: When he writes that "Tolkien's world has no religion in it,"
                Iluvatar and the Valar don't count.

                "That is not what I am talking about," he writes. "A religion is much more
                than just the presence of an actual god, or gods; it is also an established
                canon of inspired writings and an organized priesthood, a system of temples
                and shrines, and so on." Medieval societies of the kind Tolkien used as
                models had such an organized religion, he says, and other fantasies inspired
                by them have had them to. Then he gives a long list of examples, from Conan
                the Barbarian on up. "But there is no religion at all in _The Lord of the
                Rings_ - no temples, shrines, priests, prayers, amulets, scriptures, ikons,
                idols - _nothing!_ None of the many characters, not even the heroic
                warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no
                gods. Which is simply incredible in a primitive world of wizards and
                warriors and walled stone cities." (Imaginary Worlds, p. 122-24)

                The first thing that occurs to me to say in response to this is, "By
                Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"
                which is what Frodo says to the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. Luthien, or
                even Elbereth, may not technically be gods, but from a Catholic author they
                are definitely serving the function of angels or saints in this context.
                Anyway, so much for characters not swearing by them. There are other
                examples; this one is particularly memorable.

                Secondly, Carter has a rather limited idea of what an organized religion
                requires. The medieval Norse, for instance, did not have any canon of
                inspired writings that we know of. Their legends and poems about the gods
                and heroes were neither canonized nor considered sacred texts the way we
                consider the Bible. The Jews, after the fall of the Temple, simply
                abandoned the heriditary priesthood that had served them before that; even
                today, rabbis are not really "clergy" in the sense that Christians use that
                word; a rabbi is a learned man, not a priest. Some Asian religions, I
                believe, do without temples and shrines, and the diaspora Jews also rank low
                on that scale.

                The peoples of Middle-earth, however, do have some of the "and so on" which
                Carter doesn't enumerate. If they don't have a canonized scripture, they do
                have the kind of stories of the gods and heroes of the past that customarily
                appear in scriptures, even a creation myth (though Carter didn't have access
                to this one, as it first appeared in _The Silmarillion_ which hadn't been
                published when he wrote). They have some rituals, notably the moment of
                silence before eating that Faramir and his men perform at Henneth Annun.
                This, Faramir explains, is a gesture of respect towards Eldamar and Valinor,
                so they also have a holy place. They have funerary customs and respect the
                dead, a common religious practice. And, as Carter would say, so on.

                What they have more than any of this, however, are aspects of religion that
                are not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. These are the moral and spiritual
                content of religious belief, which underlie every action the admirable
                characters take, and indeed drive the whole plot, because it is a spiritual
                concern to rid the world of an evil menace, and not a practical
                consideration to defeat the bad guy in the black hat, that inspires the
                decision to destroy the Ring, rather than - as practical men like Boromir
                would prefer - use it. I hardly need to go into this here, as so many
                authors have done so brilliantly. The best source for this purpose is
                Richard Purtill's _Lord of the Elves and Eldils_, because like Carter he was
                writing before _The Silmarillion_ and proves his case, rather dazzlingly,
                from LOTR alone. (Ellwood's _Good News from Middle-earth_, the other
                pre-Silmarillion religious study of Tolkien, is a hunt for Christ figures
                and new-age woo-woo, and even if you want such things, would not be suitable
                for countering Carter.) Of more recent books on Tolkien's religious
                dimension that consider the posthumous writings, I'd say the best ones which
                still focus mostly on LOTR are _The Battle for Middle-earth_ by Fleming
                Rutledge and _Following Gandalf_ by Matthew Dickerson. (The Birzer and
                Caldecott books mentioned by others are OK, but these are much better.)

                So the answer to Carter is that he's framed his question wrongly - what
                Tolkien lacks is not religion, it's colorful religious trappings - and even
                taken as Carter frames it, his charge is not entirely true. But
                nevertheless, his observations are not entirely hallucinatory, so we can
                also raise the questions of whether what he sees is, as he claims, "simply
                incredible," and of why Tolkien writes it this way. But these are further
                observations on the topic, not directly answers to Carter, because they
                attempt only to explain the case; they don't answer it.

                From an external, author-based perspective, we can say that Tolkien couldn't
                have his pre-Christian characters be Christians, for obvious chronological
                reasons, but he didn't want to have them worshipping false gods, so he made
                them the virtuous pagans of (mostly hypothetical) Christian theology. Some
                of the authors on religion in Tolkien go into this point.

                From an internal, character-based perspective, though, there's an answer so
                breath-taking that, again, it is not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. The
                reason his pagan warriors don't worship false gods is that, through the
                Elves, and they through the Valar, have unfiltered access to the truth about
                the spiritual universe. (The truth as Tolkien sees it, of course, but as an
                author he has the right to make his Catholic theology the unfettered truth
                within his own fiction.) They don't need false gods; they have the real
                God. They don't need priests and rituals and so on; they have a closeness
                to the divine that few today are fortunate enough to experience. That
                palpable sense is part of what makes LOTR such an inspiring book.

                That's what I would say if I were on Ellen's panel, and I hope it helps.

                David Bratman


              • David Bratman
                ... Edmund Fuller, in 1962, published in the revision of his Tolkien article in Isaacs & Zimbardo s _Tolkien and the Critics_ in 1968. Too late for Carter to
                Message 7 of 22 , Oct 15, 2010
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                  dale nelson wrote:

                  >"Gandalf is an angel," as Tolkien said
                  >somewhere in an interview. Someone can
                  >remind me of the source; but I'm sure it
                  >had appeared by the time Imaginary Worlds
                  >was written, although I'm not sure that
                  >Lin Carter saw it.

                  Edmund Fuller, in 1962, published in the revision of his Tolkien article in Isaacs & Zimbardo's _Tolkien and the Critics_ in 1968. Too late for Carter to have seen it for his 1969 book (which omits mention of some 1968 post-Tolkien fantasies he would surely have referenced had he seen them, as he cites them enthusiastically in 1973). The Isaacs/Zimbardo collection is in his 1973 bibliography, but he had perhaps not read it closely. The quote was seized gratefully by enthusiastic Tolkienists, but Carter was not a Tolkienist. The only reason for citing this quote in this context today, rather than the further explanations in the Silmarillion and elsewhere, would be on the supposition that Carter _had_ seen it.
                • dale nelson
                  Of course; although there hovers around Gandalf (in LOTR) the sense that he is a person of power who yet serves some greater power. It is he who can tell
                  Message 8 of 22 , Oct 15, 2010
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                    Of course; although there hovers around Gandalf (in LOTR) the sense that he is a person of power who yet serves some greater power.  It is he who can tell Frodo that Bilbo was "meant" to find the Ring, and so on.  The "angel" remark merely confirms and makes explicit something that is already evident -- if one is prepared to see it.  I think your earlier message is right on target in saying that Lin Carter had an unduly restrictive, even on historical-cultural grounds, sense of what a "religion" looks like.

                    Dale


                    From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
                    To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                    Sent: Fri, October 15, 2010 9:45:05 AM
                    Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: religion in Tolkien

                     

                    dale nelson wrote:

                    >"Gandalf is an angel," as Tolkien said
                    >somewhere in an interview. Someone can
                    >remind me of the source; but I'm sure it
                    >had appeared by the time Imaginary Worlds
                    >was written, although I'm not sure that
                    >Lin Carter saw it.

                    Edmund Fuller, in 1962, published in the revision of his Tolkien article in Isaacs & Zimbardo's _Tolkien and the Critics_ in 1968. Too late for Carter to have seen it for his 1969 book (which omits mention of some 1968 post-Tolkien fantasies he would surely have referenced had he seen them, as he cites them enthusiastically in 1973). The Isaacs/Zimbardo collection is in his 1973 bibliography, but he had perhaps not read it closely. The quote was seized gratefully by enthusiastic Tolkienists, but Carter was not a Tolkienist. The only reason for citing this quote in this context today, rather than the further explanations in the Silmarillion and elsewhere, would be on the supposition that Carter _had_ seen it.


                  • icelofangeln
                    Just to add a couple of points to John s post- not that I m saying anything that others haven t said before, just reminding folks of them - Carter apparently
                    Message 9 of 22 , Oct 16, 2010
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                      Just to add a couple of points to John's post- not that I'm saying anything that others haven't said before, just reminding folks of them - Carter apparently didn't read very carefully.

                      "None of the many characters, not even the heroic warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no gods."

                      Clearly Carter missed "Mumak! May the Valar turn him aside!" In fact, backing up what John says, there are numerous examples in LR of a 'noble paganism' founded (in the fictional context) in actual knowledge of divine truth. "It is indeed a fundamentally Christian and even Catholic work, unconsciously in the writing, consciously so in the revision." A Elbereth Gilthoniel surely shouldn't have escaped Carter's notice, a hymn of praise to a divine being with unmistakable echoes of Mary Queen of Heaven. Nor should he have missed the rather obvious implications of the dell on Mindolluin.

                      And although Carter couldn't have known this in 1973, Tolkien certainly does include organized temple worship- evil, naturally. At least twice (the Akallabeth and the Tale of Adanel) we see Melkor-cults with fanes and human sacrifice; and Sauron is a God-King to his slaves, or at least a hierophant, Vicar of Melkor on Earth. In the Akallabeth in particular this is in intentional contrast to the non--organized non-temple worship, but worship all the same, associated with the summit of the Meneltarma.
                    • David Bratman
                      I don t think that is John s post you are replying to. I think it was mine. John was the one asking for recommendations of books on Tolkien and religion.
                      Message 10 of 22 , Oct 16, 2010
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                        I don't think that is John's post you are replying to. I think it was mine. John was the one asking for recommendations of books on Tolkien and religion.

                        Carter's inability to notice Tolkien's characters' invocations of the divine probably is a result of his having read, and written, too much hulking barbarian fiction in which the "by Crom!"-type oaths swarm in the air like bees. It isn't even the most imperceptive thing he says; a few pages earlier, he complains of Tolkien's "essential shallowness ... lack of real philosophical or psychological depth ... failure to explore the nature of evil." This has to rank among the top three or four most imperceptive remarks about LOTR ever made.

                        Thanks for mentioning the worship of Melkor imposed on Numenor in its decay. From an internal, character-based perspective, that experience should adequately explain _why_ the later Numenoreans in Gondor do not worship any false gods. They've seen what happens when you do that, and they're not making that mistake again.

                        DB


                        -----Original Message-----
                        >From: icelofangeln <solicitr@...>
                        >Sent: Oct 16, 2010 9:42 AM
                        >To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                        >Subject: [mythsoc] Re: religion in Tolkien
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >Just to add a couple of points to John's post- not that I'm saying anything that others haven't said before, just reminding folks of them - Carter apparently didn't read very carefully.
                        >
                        > "None of the many characters, not even the heroic warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no gods."
                        >
                        >Clearly Carter missed "Mumak! May the Valar turn him aside!" In fact, backing up what John says, there are numerous examples in LR of a 'noble paganism' founded (in the fictional context) in actual knowledge of divine truth. "It is indeed a fundamentally Christian and even Catholic work, unconsciously in the writing, consciously so in the revision." A Elbereth Gilthoniel surely shouldn't have escaped Carter's notice, a hymn of praise to a divine being with unmistakable echoes of Mary Queen of Heaven. Nor should he have missed the rather obvious implications of the dell on Mindolluin.
                        >
                        >And although Carter couldn't have known this in 1973, Tolkien certainly does include organized temple worship- evil, naturally. At least twice (the Akallabeth and the Tale of Adanel) we see Melkor-cults with fanes and human sacrifice; and Sauron is a God-King to his slaves, or at least a hierophant, Vicar of Melkor on Earth. In the Akallabeth in particular this is in intentional contrast to the non--organized non-temple worship, but worship all the same, associated with the summit of the Meneltarma.
                        >
                        >
                        >
                        >------------------------------------
                        >
                        >The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
                        >
                        >
                        >
                      • scribbler@scribblerworks.us
                        There s so much wrong with Carter s real understanding of world-building, that it deserves separate discussion. Heh. Maybe even a Mythcon paper. Still, as
                        Message 11 of 22 , Oct 16, 2010
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                          There's so much wrong with Carter's real understanding of world-building,
                          that it deserves separate discussion. Heh. Maybe even a Mythcon paper.

                          Still, as much as I now, with the benefit of my education, can take apart
                          Carter's observations on Tolkien and fantasy world-building, I still have
                          to admit that but for him, I would not have encountered a whole flock of
                          fantasy novels. And seriously, I think his oversight of Ballantine's
                          fantasy line helped establish the sub-genre as viable in the marketplace.

                          But yes, he missed a lot in Tolkien - and was rather limited in his views
                          of what "religion" would look like.


                          > I don't think that is John's post you are replying to. I think it was
                          > mine. John was the one asking for recommendations of books on Tolkien and
                          > religion.
                          >
                          > Carter's inability to notice Tolkien's characters' invocations of the
                          > divine probably is a result of his having read, and written, too much
                          > hulking barbarian fiction in which the "by Crom!"-type oaths swarm in the
                          > air like bees. It isn't even the most imperceptive thing he says; a few
                          > pages earlier, he complains of Tolkien's "essential shallowness ... lack
                          > of real philosophical or psychological depth ... failure to explore the
                          > nature of evil." This has to rank among the top three or four most
                          > imperceptive remarks about LOTR ever made.
                          >
                          > Thanks for mentioning the worship of Melkor imposed on Numenor in its
                          > decay. From an internal, character-based perspective, that experience
                          > should adequately explain _why_ the later Numenoreans in Gondor do not
                          > worship any false gods. They've seen what happens when you do that, and
                          > they're not making that mistake again.
                          >
                          > DB
                          >
                          >
                          > -----Original Message-----
                          >>From: icelofangeln <solicitr@...>
                          >>Sent: Oct 16, 2010 9:42 AM
                          >>To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                          >>Subject: [mythsoc] Re: religion in Tolkien
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>Just to add a couple of points to John's post- not that I'm saying
                          >> anything that others haven't said before, just reminding folks of them -
                          >> Carter apparently didn't read very carefully.
                          >>
                          >> "None of the many characters, not even the heroic warriors, so much as
                          >> swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no gods."
                          >>
                          >>Clearly Carter missed "Mumak! May the Valar turn him aside!" In fact,
                          >> backing up what John says, there are numerous examples in LR of a 'noble
                          >> paganism' founded (in the fictional context) in actual knowledge of
                          >> divine truth. "It is indeed a fundamentally Christian and even Catholic
                          >> work, unconsciously in the writing, consciously so in the revision." A
                          >> Elbereth Gilthoniel surely shouldn't have escaped Carter's notice, a hymn
                          >> of praise to a divine being with unmistakable echoes of Mary Queen of
                          >> Heaven. Nor should he have missed the rather obvious implications of the
                          >> dell on Mindolluin.
                          >>
                          >>And although Carter couldn't have known this in 1973, Tolkien certainly
                          >> does include organized temple worship- evil, naturally. At least twice
                          >> (the Akallabeth and the Tale of Adanel) we see Melkor-cults with fanes
                          >> and human sacrifice; and Sauron is a God-King to his slaves, or at least
                          >> a hierophant, Vicar of Melkor on Earth. In the Akallabeth in particular
                          >> this is in intentional contrast to the non--organized non-temple worship,
                          >> but worship all the same, associated with the summit of the Meneltarma.
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>------------------------------------
                          >>
                          >>The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
                          >>
                          >>
                          >>
                          >
                          >
                        • John Rateliff
                          Hi David Thanks for the additional info. I ve been looking forward to eventually reading the Rutledge (having initially been put off by her boast in the first
                          Message 12 of 22 , Oct 16, 2010
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                            Hi David
                               Thanks for the additional info. I've been looking forward to eventually reading the Rutledge (having initially been put off by her boast in the first few pages that she's not a Tolkien scholar). I have the Mark Eddy Smith as an audiobook (why that one was released in that format, out of all the secondary works on Tolkien, is a bit of a mystery). I also have the Sarah Arthur as a Kindle e-book. So I'll have plenty to keep me busy.
                               --John R.


                            On Oct 15, 2010, at 1:22 AM, David Bratman wrote:
                            John -

                            See also the end of the 7th paragraph of my latest long post, where I give
                            my recommendations, somewhat different from others': Dickerson, Fleming
                            Rutledge's _The Battle for Middle-earth_ (overlong, clumsily organized,
                            repetitive, impatient with Tolkien's discursions, but despite all that very
                            good), and the intrepid pioneer Purtill.

                            Bruner and Ware isn't really a religious study of Tolkien, but a set of
                            sermons inspired on Tolkienian texts (and thus, like most sermons, not
                            feeling required to stick to the text).  Not bad, because the moral virtues
                            they find in his work are really there, but not significant as a Tolkien
                            study.  Mark Eddy Smith and Sarah Arthur stick closer to Tolkien but are
                            otherwise in the same category.


                            ----- Original Message -----
                            From: "John Rateliff" <sacnoth@...>
                            To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
                            Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:30 PM
                            Subject: [mythsoc] re. religion in Tolkien


                            Thanks all who responded. I've got a good list to start with now.
                            Dale: I've read one of Caldecott's books but don't remember if it was this
                            one; I'll check when I get back to Kent
                            Mike: I'll have to pick up the Milbanks, which I didn't get under the
                            mistaken impression it was mostly about GKC, rather than about them both.
                            Thanks for the review.
                            Jef & Christina: I've read the Kreeft, and while he's a good writer with a
                            forceful point of view it bothered me that he seemed to think anything
                            Lewis said could be taken as evidence Tolkien felt exactly the same way on
                            any given issue.
                            Margaret: I've read the Ellwood, but that's so many years ago now
                            (thirty?) that the only detail I remember from it is that it's where I
                            learned the word "scry". Time to re-read it.
                            Christina: I've read the Pearce, and enjoyed his book -- it was high time
                            someone approached Tolkien from that angle -- but like the Kreeft I
                            thought him too doctrinaire. I've just finished the Birzer, and it was
                            disappointment with it that sparked my initial query (his extensive
                            research does not prevent too-frequent errors of fact, and his occasional
                            insights don't keep him from egregious misinterpretations). The Purtill
                            was one of the few early books I never got around to reading, so I'll see
                            about remedying that.

                            No one mentioned the Bruner and Ware: any good? I just started reading
                            Dickerson, who gave a good lecture at the Wade tonight on Tolkien & Lewis
                            & Xian ecology.

                            --Thanks again for all the suggestions.

                            --John R.
                          • David Bratman
                            John - Rutledge s opening did not disturb me. The kind that annoy me are the likes of Matthew Lyons, who are so eager to assure you that they re not grubby
                            Message 13 of 22 , Oct 18, 2010
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                              John -

                              Rutledge's opening did not disturb me. The kind that annoy me are the likes
                              of Matthew Lyons, who are so eager to assure you that they're not grubby
                              Tolkien FANS even as they're about to launch into obsessive book-length
                              discussions of him. Rutledge is merely saying that she's taking LOTR as
                              tabula rasa, rather than responding to previous scholars. People who start
                              this way often turn out to be entirely flaky, but the proof is in the
                              pudding, and this pudding I found good, with the caveats I mentioned before.
                              She has grasped the book by the right end of the stick.

                              If you do find anything attesting to Lewis's authorship of the Tolkien obit
                              in the Times, please let us know. (And let Walter Hooper know.) My
                              argument, when we discussed this before, was that in our current state of
                              knowledge it is no longer justifiable to say, without note or caution of
                              uncertainty, that Lewis wrote it. But anything that can advance our state
                              of knowledge, either way, would be highly desirable to have.

                              DB

                              ----- Original Message -----
                              From: "John Rateliff" <sacnoth@...>
                              To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
                              Sent: Saturday, October 16, 2010 10:17 PM
                              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] re. religion in Tolkien


                              Hi David
                              Thanks for the additional info. I've been looking forward to eventually
                              reading the Rutledge (having initially been put off by her boast in the
                              first few pages that she's not a Tolkien scholar). I have the Mark Eddy
                              Smith as an audiobook (why that one was released in that format, out of all
                              the secondary works on Tolkien, is a bit of a mystery). I also have the
                              Sarah Arthur as a Kindle e-book. So I'll have plenty to keep me busy.
                              --John R.


                              On Oct 15, 2010, at 1:22 AM, David Bratman wrote:
                              > John -
                              >
                              > See also the end of the 7th paragraph of my latest long post, where I give
                              > my recommendations, somewhat different from others': Dickerson, Fleming
                              > Rutledge's _The Battle for Middle-earth_ (overlong, clumsily organized,
                              > repetitive, impatient with Tolkien's discursions, but despite all that
                              > very
                              > good), and the intrepid pioneer Purtill.
                              >
                              > Bruner and Ware isn't really a religious study of Tolkien, but a set of
                              > sermons inspired on Tolkienian texts (and thus, like most sermons, not
                              > feeling required to stick to the text). Not bad, because the moral
                              > virtues
                              > they find in his work are really there, but not significant as a Tolkien
                              > study. Mark Eddy Smith and Sarah Arthur stick closer to Tolkien but are
                              > otherwise in the same category.
                              >
                              >
                              > ----- Original Message -----
                              > From: "John Rateliff" <sacnoth@...>
                              > To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
                              > Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:30 PM
                              > Subject: [mythsoc] re. religion in Tolkien
                              >
                              >
                              >> Thanks all who responded. I've got a good list to start with now.
                              >> Dale: I've read one of Caldecott's books but don't remember if it was
                              >> this
                              >> one; I'll check when I get back to Kent
                              >> Mike: I'll have to pick up the Milbanks, which I didn't get under the
                              >> mistaken impression it was mostly about GKC, rather than about them both.
                              >> Thanks for the review.
                              >> Jef & Christina: I've read the Kreeft, and while he's a good writer with
                              >> a
                              >> forceful point of view it bothered me that he seemed to think anything
                              >> Lewis said could be taken as evidence Tolkien felt exactly the same way
                              >> on
                              >> any given issue.
                              >> Margaret: I've read the Ellwood, but that's so many years ago now
                              >> (thirty?) that the only detail I remember from it is that it's where I
                              >> learned the word "scry". Time to re-read it.
                              >> Christina: I've read the Pearce, and enjoyed his book -- it was high time
                              >> someone approached Tolkien from that angle -- but like the Kreeft I
                              >> thought him too doctrinaire. I've just finished the Birzer, and it was
                              >> disappointment with it that sparked my initial query (his extensive
                              >> research does not prevent too-frequent errors of fact, and his occasional
                              >> insights don't keep him from egregious misinterpretations). The Purtill
                              >> was one of the few early books I never got around to reading, so I'll see
                              >> about remedying that.
                              >>
                              >> No one mentioned the Bruner and Ware: any good? I just started reading
                              >> Dickerson, who gave a good lecture at the Wade tonight on Tolkien & Lewis
                              >> & Xian ecology.
                              >>
                              >> --Thanks again for all the suggestions.
                              >>
                              >> --John R.
                            • John Rateliff
                              Hi David Good to hear about the Rutledge. I actually had the opposite reaction to the Lyons, in that I felt that he really got something important about
                              Message 14 of 22 , Oct 19, 2010
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                                Hi David
                                   Good to hear about the Rutledge. I actually had the opposite reaction to the Lyons, in that I felt that he really got something important about Tolkien, and he got it right, and gave it the emphasis it deserved, more than anyone else before him. So I was willing to let slide his shortcomings more than wd have been the case with a run-of-the-mill effort. 

                                    I'll certainly let you know re. the obit if and when there's ever a definitive answer.* At present there's good evidence that Lewis wrote such a piece; the question is whether what was published in 1973 accurately represents what Lewis wrote. Basically there are three main possibilities:

                                (1) the published piece is Lewis's work, aside from the opening paragraphs (giving Tolkien's age at the time he died, &c) added to the file obit by a Times staffer.

                                (2) the published piece contains some genuine Lewis material, but it has been reworked to the extent that there's no way to say if a given line is Lewis's or not.

                                (3) the Lewis piece on file was at some point replaced by a wholly new piece, which is what got published.

                                Carpenter seems to have held position #1 without having the evidence to prove it

                                Hooper initially held position #1 but later shifted to somewhere between #2 and #3, whereupon he removed it from his bibliography.

                                I hold to position #1 as the most plausible option but do not yet have the evidence to prove it beyond all doubt. 

                                --JDR

                                *I summed up my current thinking on it in my guest editorial to the most recent issue of MALLORN.



                                On Oct 18, 2010, at 9:55 PM, David Bratman wrote:
                                John -

                                Rutledge's opening did not disturb me.  The kind that annoy me are the likes
                                of Matthew Lyons, who are so eager to assure you that they're not grubby
                                Tolkien FANS even as they're about to launch into obsessive book-length
                                discussions of him.  Rutledge is merely saying that she's taking LOTR as
                                tabula rasa, rather than responding to previous scholars.  People who start
                                this way often turn out to be entirely flaky, but the proof is in the
                                pudding, and this pudding I found good, with the caveats I mentioned before.
                                She has grasped the book by the right end of the stick.

                                If you do find anything attesting to Lewis's authorship of the Tolkien obit
                                in the Times, please let us know.  (And let Walter Hooper know.)  My
                                argument, when we discussed this before, was that in our current state of
                                knowledge it is no longer justifiable to say, without note or caution of
                                uncertainty, that Lewis wrote it.  But anything that can advance our state
                                of knowledge, either way, would be highly desirable to have.

                                DB
                              • Leslie A. Donovan
                                As someone who fights the Orcs and Sarumans of academia nearly daily now in my new position as Acting Director (for one semester only, thanks be to all higher
                                Message 15 of 22 , Oct 20, 2010
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                                  As someone who fights the Orcs and Sarumans of academia nearly daily now in
                                  my new position as Acting Director (for one semester only, thanks be to all
                                  higher powers!), this analogy gave me a much needed laugh today! Thanks to
                                  Jason for passing it along and to Mike for expanding on it. I loved it!

                                  Leslie


                                  Leslie A. Donovan
                                  Acting Director and Associate Professor
                                  University Honors Program
                                  MSC06 3890
                                  1 University of New Mexico
                                  Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
                                  (505) 277-4313
                                  ldonovan@...
                                  http://www.unm.edu/~ldonovan
                                • Mike Foster
                                  Note found in adjunct hobbit s faculty mailbox: MR. TOOK: SEVERAL OF YOUR ORCISH STUDENTS IN THE 9 A.M. CLASS HAVE ASSERTED THAT YOUR REQUIREMENTS ARE TOO
                                  Message 16 of 22 , Oct 20, 2010
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                                    Note found in adjunct hobbit's faculty mailbox:

                                     

                                    "MR. TOOK:

                                    SEVERAL OF YOUR ORCISH STUDENTS IN THE 9 A.M. CLASS HAVE ASSERTED THAT YOUR REQUIREMENTS ARE TOO STRINGENT FOR ENGL 001 AND HAVE COMPLAINED THAT AN AUTOMATIC "C" FOR THREE SENTENCE ERRORS IS "ABUSIVE." 

                                     PLEASE MEET WITH ME AND DEAN WORMTONGUE AT 10:20 SHARP TODAY IN ORDER TO CONVINCE US THAT YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE SENT TO THE LOCKHOLES TO TUTOR STONE TROLLS.

                                    SINCERELY, DR. MOUTHOFSAURON"

                                     



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                                  • Mike Foster
                                    MR. BRANDYBUCK: IN LIGHT OF MR. TOOK S DISMISSAL, WE MUST OBLIGE YOU TO TAKE OVER ALL HIS CLASSES AND GRADING RESPONSIBILITIES. PLEASE GRADE THE ATTACHED 27
                                    Message 17 of 22 , Oct 20, 2010
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                                      MR. BRANDYBUCK:
                                          IN LIGHT OF MR. TOOK'S DISMISSAL, WE MUST OBLIGE YOU TO TAKE OVER ALL HIS CLASSES AND GRADING RESPONSIBILITIES. 
                                       
                                          PLEASE GRADE THE ATTACHED 27 ESSAYS "WHY I LOVE VICE-PRESIDENT SARUMAN" ESSAYS AND RETURN THEM  TO MR. TOOK'S CLASS BY YESTERDAY. 
                                       
                                          WE REGRET THAT CURRENT FUNDING RESTRICTIONS MEAN WE CAN NOT PAY YOU FOR THIS EXTRA WORK AT THIS TIME.
                                      DR. MOUTHOFSAURON


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                                    • lynnmaudlin
                                      Granted, Gandalf has idiosyncrasies that we don t usually associate with angels... We have such limited (and yet varied!) sources on angels, I suspect that
                                      Message 18 of 22 , Oct 20, 2010
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                                        "Granted, Gandalf has idiosyncrasies that we don't usually associate with angels..."

                                        We have such limited (and yet varied!) sources on angels, I suspect that our 'associations' are fairly far-ranging! But you're right, we don't think of angels as staying in this dimension with the consistency which Gandalf does; we tend to think of them as miracle-workers (and I suppose the powers Gandalf exercises could be viewed in miraculous terms although I don't think that's really the way Tolkien presents it) who come and go, staying for much less time than Gandalf does. I mean, Gandalf eats, drinks, sleeps, etc. w/the company - we're not used to angels being *present* in that way (although Bertie MacAvoy had a very present angel...).

                                        Also, I think Carter ignored Celtic and Druidic history, too - stone circles but not a lot of structure or documentation left over for us to examine; he seems to have been stuck in the European Christian model of the middle ages.

                                        -- Lynn --




                                        --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, dale nelson <extollager2006@...> wrote:
                                        >
                                        > This is very helpful, David. To your second point ("and so on") I can add only
                                        > that the faithful of Middle-earth have literal angels, messengers of God, in
                                        > their midst, since "Gandalf is an angel," as Tolkien said somewhere in an
                                        > interview. Someone can remind me of the source; but I'm sure it had appeared by
                                        > the time Imaginary Worlds was written, although I'm not sure that Lin Carter saw
                                        > it. Granted, Gandalf has idiosyncrasies that we don't usually associate with
                                        > angels, even after his return from combat (cf. the war in heaven) with the
                                        > Balrog. But he appears among the faithful peoples to bring counsel,
                                        > encouragement, correction, etc. I actually think Tolkien took the angelic
                                        > aspect about as far as he could without raising distracting questions among
                                        > readers. Similarly, I'm glad that it is not a commonplace of commentary on
                                        > Tolkien to regard Gandalf as a Melchizedek/Melchisedec figure (the priest-king
                                        > who appears to Abraham after his victory, etc.).... and so on. (I don't think
                                        > it entered Tolkien's mind to see Gandalf as an angel at first, back when he was
                                        > writing The Hobbit, and I wouldn't care to speculate on when it was that Tolkien
                                        > "realized" this.)
                                        >
                                        >
                                        > Dale
                                        >
                                        >
                                        >
                                        >
                                        > ________________________________
                                        > From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
                                        > To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                                        > Sent: Thu, October 14, 2010 10:24:20 PM
                                        > Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: religion in Tolkien
                                        >
                                        >
                                        > If we're going to respond to Lin Carter - which I am about to do at
                                        > considerable length - we need to have at hand what he actually said.
                                        >
                                        > Carter's contentious comments on religion in Tolkien appeared only briefly
                                        > in his 1969 book on Tolkien, which was focused on placing LOTR in the
                                        > context of the history of fantasy literature, rather than on evaluating
                                        > Tolkien's work. But his 1973 book _Imaginary Worlds_ was a history of
                                        > fantasy, and its view of Tolkien was focused on evaluating his achievement
                                        > in that context. LOTR had been so widely praised that Carter felt there was
                                        > room to emphasize what he saw as the book's flaws, and one of the things he
                                        > said was this: When he writes that "Tolkien's world has no religion in it,"
                                        > Iluvatar and the Valar don't count.
                                        >
                                        > "That is not what I am talking about," he writes. "A religion is much more
                                        > than just the presence of an actual god, or gods; it is also an established
                                        > canon of inspired writings and an organized priesthood, a system of temples
                                        > and shrines, and so on." Medieval societies of the kind Tolkien used as
                                        > models had such an organized religion, he says, and other fantasies inspired
                                        > by them have had them to. Then he gives a long list of examples, from Conan
                                        > the Barbarian on up. "But there is no religion at all in _The Lord of the
                                        > Rings_ - no temples, shrines, priests, prayers, amulets, scriptures, ikons,
                                        > idols - _nothing!_ None of the many characters, not even the heroic
                                        > warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no
                                        > gods. Which is simply incredible in a primitive world of wizards and
                                        > warriors and walled stone cities." (Imaginary Worlds, p. 122-24)
                                        >
                                        > The first thing that occurs to me to say in response to this is, "By
                                        > Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"
                                        > which is what Frodo says to the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. Luthien, or
                                        > even Elbereth, may not technically be gods, but from a Catholic author they
                                        > are definitely serving the function of angels or saints in this context.
                                        > Anyway, so much for characters not swearing by them. There are other
                                        > examples; this one is particularly memorable.
                                        >
                                        > Secondly, Carter has a rather limited idea of what an organized religion
                                        > requires. The medieval Norse, for instance, did not have any canon of
                                        > inspired writings that we know of. Their legends and poems about the gods
                                        > and heroes were neither canonized nor considered sacred texts the way we
                                        > consider the Bible. The Jews, after the fall of the Temple, simply
                                        > abandoned the heriditary priesthood that had served them before that; even
                                        > today, rabbis are not really "clergy" in the sense that Christians use that
                                        > word; a rabbi is a learned man, not a priest. Some Asian religions, I
                                        > believe, do without temples and shrines, and the diaspora Jews also rank low
                                        > on that scale.
                                        >
                                        > The peoples of Middle-earth, however, do have some of the "and so on" which
                                        > Carter doesn't enumerate. If they don't have a canonized scripture, they do
                                        > have the kind of stories of the gods and heroes of the past that customarily
                                        > appear in scriptures, even a creation myth (though Carter didn't have access
                                        > to this one, as it first appeared in _The Silmarillion_ which hadn't been
                                        > published when he wrote). They have some rituals, notably the moment of
                                        > silence before eating that Faramir and his men perform at Henneth Annun.
                                        > This, Faramir explains, is a gesture of respect towards Eldamar and Valinor,
                                        > so they also have a holy place. They have funerary customs and respect the
                                        > dead, a common religious practice. And, as Carter would say, so on.
                                        >
                                        > What they have more than any of this, however, are aspects of religion that
                                        > are not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. These are the moral and spiritual
                                        > content of religious belief, which underlie every action the admirable
                                        > characters take, and indeed drive the whole plot, because it is a spiritual
                                        > concern to rid the world of an evil menace, and not a practical
                                        > consideration to defeat the bad guy in the black hat, that inspires the
                                        > decision to destroy the Ring, rather than - as practical men like Boromir
                                        > would prefer - use it. I hardly need to go into this here, as so many
                                        > authors have done so brilliantly. The best source for this purpose is
                                        > Richard Purtill's _Lord of the Elves and Eldils_, because like Carter he was
                                        > writing before _The Silmarillion_ and proves his case, rather dazzlingly,
                                        > from LOTR alone. (Ellwood's _Good News from Middle-earth_, the other
                                        > pre-Silmarillion religious study of Tolkien, is a hunt for Christ figures
                                        > and new-age woo-woo, and even if you want such things, would not be suitable
                                        > for countering Carter.) Of more recent books on Tolkien's religious
                                        > dimension that consider the posthumous writings, I'd say the best ones which
                                        > still focus mostly on LOTR are _The Battle for Middle-earth_ by Fleming
                                        > Rutledge and _Following Gandalf_ by Matthew Dickerson. (The Birzer and
                                        > Caldecott books mentioned by others are OK, but these are much better.)
                                        >
                                        > So the answer to Carter is that he's framed his question wrongly - what
                                        > Tolkien lacks is not religion, it's colorful religious trappings - and even
                                        > taken as Carter frames it, his charge is not entirely true. But
                                        > nevertheless, his observations are not entirely hallucinatory, so we can
                                        > also raise the questions of whether what he sees is, as he claims, "simply
                                        > incredible," and of why Tolkien writes it this way. But these are further
                                        > observations on the topic, not directly answers to Carter, because they
                                        > attempt only to explain the case; they don't answer it.
                                        >
                                        > From an external, author-based perspective, we can say that Tolkien couldn't
                                        > have his pre-Christian characters be Christians, for obvious chronological
                                        > reasons, but he didn't want to have them worshipping false gods, so he made
                                        > them the virtuous pagans of (mostly hypothetical) Christian theology. Some
                                        > of the authors on religion in Tolkien go into this point.
                                        >
                                        > From an internal, character-based perspective, though, there's an answer so
                                        > breath-taking that, again, it is not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. The
                                        > reason his pagan warriors don't worship false gods is that, through the
                                        > Elves, and they through the Valar, have unfiltered access to the truth about
                                        > the spiritual universe. (The truth as Tolkien sees it, of course, but as an
                                        > author he has the right to make his Catholic theology the unfettered truth
                                        > within his own fiction.) They don't need false gods; they have the real
                                        > God. They don't need priests and rituals and so on; they have a closeness
                                        > to the divine that few today are fortunate enough to experience. That
                                        > palpable sense is part of what makes LOTR such an inspiring book.
                                        >
                                        > That's what I would say if I were on Ellen's panel, and I hope it helps.
                                        >
                                        > David Bratman
                                        >
                                      • Ellen
                                        Belated thanks to David, Sarah, William, John, and anyone else I ve missed who helped put my question in perspective for my upcoming panel on Tolkien at World
                                        Message 19 of 22 , Oct 26, 2010
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                                          Belated thanks to David, Sarah, William, John, and anyone else I've missed who helped put my question in perspective for my upcoming panel on Tolkien at World Fantasy.  Between your suggestions and what I've read in Tolkien's letters I feel like I'm (hopefully) armed to say some relevant things.

                                          Ellen Denham


                                          On 10/14/10 11:24 PM, David Bratman wrote:
                                           

                                          If we're going to respond to Lin Carter - which I am about to do at
                                          considerable length - we need to have at hand what he actually said.

                                          Carter's contentious comments on religion in Tolkien appeared only briefly
                                          in his 1969 book on Tolkien, which was focused on placing LOTR in the
                                          context of the history of fantasy literature, rather than on evaluating
                                          Tolkien's work. But his 1973 book _Imaginary Worlds_ was a history of
                                          fantasy, and its view of Tolkien was focused on evaluating his achievement
                                          in that context. LOTR had been so widely praised that Carter felt there was
                                          room to emphasize what he saw as the book's flaws, and one of the things he
                                          said was this: When he writes that "Tolkien's world has no religion in it,"
                                          Iluvatar and the Valar don't count.

                                          "That is not what I am talking about," he writes. "A religion is much more
                                          than just the presence of an actual god, or gods; it is also an established
                                          canon of inspired writings and an organized priesthood, a system of temples
                                          and shrines, and so on." Medieval societies of the kind Tolkien used as
                                          models had such an organized religion, he says, and other fantasies inspired
                                          by them have had them to. Then he gives a long list of examples, from Conan
                                          the Barbarian on up. "But there is no religion at all in _The Lord of the
                                          Rings_ - no temples, shrines, priests, prayers, amulets, scriptures, ikons,
                                          idols - _nothing!_ None of the many characters, not even the heroic
                                          warriors, so much as swears by his gods. Obviously because they _have_ no
                                          gods. Which is simply incredible in a primitive world of wizards and
                                          warriors and walled stone cities." (Imaginary Worlds, p. 122-24)

                                          The first thing that occurs to me to say in response to this is, "By
                                          Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"
                                          which is what Frodo says to the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. Luthien, or
                                          even Elbereth, may not technically be gods, but from a Catholic author they
                                          are definitely serving the function of angels or saints in this context.
                                          Anyway, so much for characters not swearing by them. There are other
                                          examples; this one is particularly memorable.

                                          Secondly, Carter has a rather limited idea of what an organized religion
                                          requires. The medieval Norse, for instance, did not have any canon of
                                          inspired writings that we know of. Their legends and poems about the gods
                                          and heroes were neither canonized nor considered sacred texts the way we
                                          consider the Bible. The Jews, after the fall of the Temple, simply
                                          abandoned the heriditary priesthood that had served them before that; even
                                          today, rabbis are not really "clergy" in the sense that Christians use that
                                          word; a rabbi is a learned man, not a priest. Some Asian religions, I
                                          believe, do without temples and shrines, and the diaspora Jews also rank low
                                          on that scale.

                                          The peoples of Middle-earth, however, do have some of the "and so on" which
                                          Carter doesn't enumerate. If they don't have a canonized scripture, they do
                                          have the kind of stories of the gods and heroes of the past that customarily
                                          appear in scriptures, even a creation myth (though Carter didn't have access
                                          to this one, as it first appeared in _The Silmarillion_ which hadn't been
                                          published when he wrote). They have some rituals, notably the moment of
                                          silence before eating that Faramir and his men perform at Henneth Annun.
                                          This, Faramir explains, is a gesture of respect towards Eldamar and Valinor,
                                          so they also have a holy place. They have funerary customs and respect the
                                          dead, a common religious practice. And, as Carter would say, so on.

                                          What they have more than any of this, however, are aspects of religion that
                                          are not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. These are the moral and spiritual
                                          content of religious belief, which underlie every action the admirable
                                          characters take, and indeed drive the whole plot, because it is a spiritual
                                          concern to rid the world of an evil menace, and not a practical
                                          consideration to defeat the bad guy in the black hat, that inspires the
                                          decision to destroy the Ring, rather than - as practical men like Boromir
                                          would prefer - use it. I hardly need to go into this here, as so many
                                          authors have done so brilliantly. The best source for this purpose is
                                          Richard Purtill's _Lord of the Elves and Eldils_, because like Carter he was
                                          writing before _The Silmarillion_ and proves his case, rather dazzlingly,
                                          from LOTR alone. (Ellwood's _Good News from Middle-earth_, the other
                                          pre-Silmarillion religious study of Tolkien, is a hunt for Christ figures
                                          and new-age woo-woo, and even if you want such things, would not be suitable
                                          for countering Carter.) Of more recent books on Tolkien's religious
                                          dimension that consider the posthumous writings, I'd say the best ones which
                                          still focus mostly on LOTR are _The Battle for Middle-earth_ by Fleming
                                          Rutledge and _Following Gandalf_ by Matthew Dickerson. (The Birzer and
                                          Caldecott books mentioned by others are OK, but these are much better.)

                                          So the answer to Carter is that he's framed his question wrongly - what
                                          Tolkien lacks is not religion, it's colorful religious trappings - and even
                                          taken as Carter frames it, his charge is not entirely true. But
                                          nevertheless, his observations are not entirely hallucinatory, so we can
                                          also raise the questions of whether what he sees is, as he claims, "simply
                                          incredible," and of why Tolkien writes it this way. But these are further
                                          observations on the topic, not directly answers to Carter, because they
                                          attempt only to explain the case; they don't answer it.

                                          >From an external, author-based perspective, we can say that Tolkien couldn't
                                          have his pre-Christian characters be Christians, for obvious chronological
                                          reasons, but he didn't want to have them worshipping false gods, so he made
                                          them the virtuous pagans of (mostly hypothetical) Christian theology. Some
                                          of the authors on religion in Tolkien go into this point.

                                          >From an internal, character-based perspective, though, there's an answer so
                                          breath-taking that, again, it is not dreamt of in Carter's philosophy. The
                                          reason his pagan warriors don't worship false gods is that, through the
                                          Elves, and they through the Valar, have unfiltered access to the truth about
                                          the spiritual universe. (The truth as Tolkien sees it, of course, but as an
                                          author he has the right to make his Catholic theology the unfettered truth
                                          within his own fiction.) They don't need false gods; they have the real
                                          God. They don't need priests and rituals and so on; they have a closeness
                                          to the divine that few today are fortunate enough to experience. That
                                          palpable sense is part of what makes LOTR such an inspiring book.

                                          That's what I would say if I were on Ellen's panel, and I hope it helps.

                                          David Bratman

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