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Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien, magic and the spiritual dimension

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    Thanks, John. Asimov. Foundation series. For me particularly in the awesome narrative of how the Mule was outwitted and the Second Foundation kept concealed.
    Message 1 of 142 , Dec 20, 2012
      Thanks, John. Asimov. Foundation series. For me particularly in the awesome narrative  of how the Mule was outwitted and the Second Foundation kept concealed. Also it seems, "Night", the story of the stars coming out once in a thousand years (?)

      Could you say which Asimov you have in mind?

      While one is on science fiction,another master there is Clifford Simak, as in "The Marathon Photograph"  and "The Whistling Chair".

      David Zindell is in a  class of his own, particularly with Neverness and also its sequels. I have not been able to make progress in reading his fantasy writing.

      Which Zindell works do you have in mind?

      Will check oput Asimov on sci-fi. I get the impression his Cosmos TV series, which should be available as film and book, are also evocative of awe. His essay on "Life" in the Britannica 1971 and 2002 is something else. Unforgettable.

      Will research and read Morris, Noon and Coupland.

      Thank you very much.


      On Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 12:31 PM, John Davis <john@...> wrote:

      Other people on the list have already mentioned several I had in mind. Others might include William Morris for fantasy, then reaching further afield, sci fi authors such as Asimov, David Zindell, Carl Sagan, Jeff Noon.
      And, though I may be alone here, I'd also say Coupland. Though he has reputation for being more style than substance, to my mind at his best he is the very opposite - finding the beautiful and numinous within the trappings of so-called soulless modern culture. Generation X and Girlfriend in a Coma, in particular, have  breathtaking flashes of the transcendent.
      Hmm. Having said all of which, now I think on it, I don't know for certain that all of the above are definitely aethiests. Morris and Asimov yes, or at least, Google seems to back me up there, and Sagan was certainly at least agnostic, but I'm not sure of the others. They seem that way inclined from their writing and what I know of them, but don't quote me on it!
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 7:29 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien, magic and the spiritual dimension


      Do you have in mind any atheist writer who evokes the divine or numinous, John?

      i would want to check them up.


      On Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 7:28 PM, OLUWATOYIN ADEPOJU <tvade3@...> wrote:
      Thanks, John.
      You sum up the issues in a most intriguing way.
      I am working on a number of initiatives in this direction, from different cultures, and will keep the group posted.


      On Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 1:55 PM, John Davis <john@...> wrote:

      Fascinating post.
      I have often wondered at how a fictional work can evoke very real feelings of, ah, awareness of the divine, for want of a better phrase. And the fact that Tolkien was Catholic, or Blackwood a member of the Golden Dawn, etc., has never really quite served as an answer, since their beliefs are not generally explicitly voiced, and the transendental within their books not limited to the tenets of their religions, whilst aetheist writers can sometimes achieve this same sense. Your post goes a long way to suggesting an answer.
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 4:25 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien, magic and the spiritual dimension


      Very important points being made.

      I want to quickly respond to three of them.

      The first is the idea of the real as different from the imaginary in literature and religion. 

      The second is the question of  explicitly stated  as opposed to imaginatively evoked  authorial  vision.

      The third  is the idea of seriousness or otherwise in adapting an imaginative world for a spiritual quest. 

      Reality and Imaginative Worlds in Literature and Religion

      Scribbler states that Tolkien's world is not the real world. 

      Up to a point.

      In its essentials, however, it may be described as emblematic of reality.

       I refer here to the attitudes and behaviour of characters in his stories and even the general contexts of his settings,  all of these being drawn from within the range of human experience and transformed by Tolkien.

      His universe may  also be described as being evocative of aspirations that human beings share even when those aspirations have not been actualised to the satisfaction of humans across the centuries.

      I refer here to ideas about  forms of being that encapsulate a sense of enlargement of the  cosmos beyond the   readily perceptible. These conceptions range from the idea of numinous intensity in nature-such as the descriptions of Lothlorien- to the notion of forms of agency outside conventional experience-Tolkien's elves and Valar, for example. 

      In terms of these two parameters, one may argue that Tolkien's universe is correlative with reality as we know it.

      This correlation does not assume that such conceptions of ontological expansion are factual, whether in Tolkien, Christianity, Paganism or any religion. It only asserts that  that humans, for centuries, have  identified with such ideas. 

      Along those lines, therefore, one may argue that Christian, Buddhist or Orisa cosmologies are no more factual than a Tolkien cosmology. They deal largely with conceptions of being that are not known to be factual to most humans.

      That being so, if the Dhyani Buddhas, for example,  can be described by Buddhists as existing centuries after the creation of Buddhism, why can't Elebereth and Galadriel likewise be understood as existing? 

      One may go further to explore ideas about divine forms as being human creations ensouled by spirit, therefore the Tolkien creations may also be so employed, that line of thought could conclude. 

      Authorial Vision and Audience Response

      I now address   the issue of your point about Tolkien's desires about his work.

      You mentioned certain cultures insisting on the author as largely arbiter of the possibilities of meaning and use of his work.

      How far can that argument travel? 

      To the best of my knowledge, particularly in pre-literate societies, stories undergo modification when retold by other storytellers.

       The point being made by David about Australian Aborigine narratives relates to a particular kind of narrative among them. Does it apply to all their narrative forms, of which I expect there are various kinds? 

      I understand some of these stories of the kind David mentions are not understood to be fictive in the thoroughgoing  sense of being completely  made up. I understand them to be   mythic narratives believed  to enable a re-enactment of primal history. 

      The relationships of such stories to communal and general reality are more complex than that of a Tolkien story and both can't be readily  conflated. 

      Having made that point, I would argue that adapting Tolkien's work  to religious use against his will does not in any way dishonour his creation. The writer has expressed a will within the range of his human and limited understanding. Was he able to grasp the full possibilities of his creation? Of course not. Such expansive art must transcend  the scope of its author's expectations. 

      Seriousness of Purpose in Creating  Religious and Magical Systems 

      How does one measure seriousness in creating a religious or magical system? 

      All such extant systems are created by human beings.  How does one assess the seriousness of one creator in relation to  that of another?  Must one begin with a supposed inspirational experience outside  the boundaries of the normal if one's aims are to be seen as serious? 

      Tolkien has certainly enlarged  my sensitivities and expanded  my appreciation of life's possibilities.  His work has numinous significance for me. I see it as worthy of adoption in the spirit of veneration as other mythologies that play a role in established religions.

      In terms of religions emerging from unusual experiences that expand perception, on reading Lord of the Rings for the first time in Benin,Nigeria,  I had a dream of Gandalf outside my window. A friend of mine in Benin also described himself as having  a strange experience on reading the book, an experience   he refused to divulge, perhaps on account of its intimacy,  that being a feature of some experiences of the sacred. I expect many others have had some stirring of the numinous in connection with Tolkien.

      I have also used the Silmarillion with a most memorable effect   in a ritual based on the Catholic rosary and adapting Jung's theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious. 

      Referring to a different kind of writer, the first time I read Immanuel Kant-on the Sublime-  I went into a trance, so powerful were his words. I am developing a meditation based on his writing, beginning  with his reflections  on temporality and infinity in the concluding section of  a Critique of Practical Reason. Kant as evocative of the sacred and contemplative is very different from the way I have seen him discussed, but to me, Kant exemplifies mot powerfully such possibilities. 

      There are more points made that I could address  but let me take a break for now.


      On Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 3:03 PM, Alana Joli Abbott <alanajoli@...> wrote:

      Most readers who like to "tinker" with an
      author's creation, by writing fan fiction, applying the story to their own
      invented ideas, and so on, claim to be devout fans of the original author.
      It strikes me as a very strange form of disrespect to an author you profess
      to admire, to scrawl figurative graffiti all over your copy of a work in a
      way that you know the author detests. (If the author permits it, as some
      do, that's another matter.)

      I think this has to do with the impulse to be a participant in a story -- immersing one's self (as relevant to the other thread) -- and is indeed an expression of love, even when that love isn't in a form that the creator desires it. Out of respect, I do think that it's proper for people not to write fan fiction in worlds where the author has prohibited it, but I know not everyone feels that way. 

      Yes. In Australian aboriginal culture it is strictly taboo to retell
      another storyteller's stories. 

      I would *love* to know more about this. Can you recommend any books (or even online articles) that discuss it further?


      Alana Joli Abbott, Freelance Writer and Editor (http://www.virgilandbeatrice.com)
      Contributor to Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror http://tinyurl.com/haunted-aja
      Author of Into the Reach and Departure http://tinyurl.com/aja-ebooks
      Columnist, "The Town with Five Main Streets" http://branford.patch.com/columns/the-town-with-five-main-streets

      For updates on my writings, join my mailing list at http://groups.google.com/group/alanajoliabbottfans

      Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
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      Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
      "Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge"

      Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
      "Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge"

      Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
      "Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge"

    • Travis Buchanan
      John Rateliff has given a more authoritative word, if coming from Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as a very sensible perspective. (He seems endowed with great
      Message 142 of 142 , Dec 23, 2012
        John Rateliff has given a more authoritative word, if coming from Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as a very sensible perspective. (He seems endowed with great sense, judging from his postings.) I had felt because of Tolkien's later letters (e.g., no. 252 to his son Michael) and Carpenter's biography (and Colin Duriez and others who follow him) that the 'cooling' (word first used by Carpenter?) in Tolkien and Lewis's relationship began or was accelerated by the arrival of Charles Williams in Oxford during the war, and the immediacy with which he and Lewis became intimate friends. It is popular knowledge of course that Tolkien wasn't fond of the Narnia stories, but I had never encountered the opinion offered by Bruce Charlton on the blog (http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2012/08/timing-and-causes-of-breakdown-of.html) that Lewis's writing of The Chronicles was the breaking point in their relationship, or that Tolkien saw that as a violation of their original pact to both write some fiction where the chief characters discover or enact myth, which Lewis finished in good time (his Ransom trilogy under the theme of space-travel) and Tolkien--'that great but dilatory and unmethodical man', as Lewis commented in a letter on whether Tolkien's contribution to their agreement would ever be completed--never did (his The Notional Club Papers, under the theme of time-travel). Neither did Tolkien approve of several other of Lewis's works and certainly was bothered by Lewis's (mostly unsought) position as a popular articulater and defender of 'mere Christianity' to a generation (I think because he thought it improper for one without professional theological training to assume such a role (Austin Farrer would have been better suited, from the Anglican position, I assume Tolkien would say (indeed if he did not say so himself somewhere))--even if such a role was foisted upon Lewis--and he disagreed with many of Lewis's theological views due to their differing from traditional Catholic dogma--for example, in Letter 83 (1944) Tolkien commented that 'there is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself'; and Tolkien was working on a commentary of objections to views presented Lewis's Letters to Malcolm which he never finished or shared with him, but which he was privately referring to as 'The Ulsterior Motive'). I would still guess (though Charlton has disagreed) that Tolkien was somewhat jealous over Lewis's quick and intimate friendship with Williams, which somewhat displaced him as an influence on Lewis, as well as Lewis's productivity and growing popularity beginning with his war broadcasts and the publication of The Screwtape Letters (1942), which incidentally was the only of his works ever dedicated to Tolkien. That, based on my limited exposure to the literature, is the explanation of the beginning of the 'cooling' with the most evidence, including Tolkien's own recollections about the arrival of Williams in Oxford and his (spoiling) influence over Lewis's writing (again see Letter 252). But Rateliff's common sense observation certainly also seems right, that 'friendships are complicated, and the ending of a long-time one is tragic but hardly unprecedented or strange', and so accumulative and thus difficult to trace to a specific event or point in time, as well as the apparent testimony of Roger Lancelyn Green Rateliff relayed by Rateliff that 'the cooling of the Lewis/Tolkien friendship was mutual, which seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot'.


        On Sun, Dec 23, 2012 at 7:27 AM, John Rateliff <sacnoth@...> wrote:

        On Dec 21, 2012, at 2:00 PM, dale nelson wrote:
        That may well be (sadly) true.  If it is true, a cause might be listfolk dwelling on the cooling of the Lewis-Tolkien friendship.  There was some discussion at this blog

        a few months ago on the topic.


        Thanks for the link, Dale. Having just read the post and skimmed the comments (what do those folks have against Spenser, anyway?), have to say I'm entirely unconvinced that the breakdown of a friendship of twenty-plus years' standing can be easily dated and traced to a single simple event. In some cases, yes; in this particular one, no.  Roger Lancelyn Green told me the cooling of the Lewis/Tolkien friendship was mutual, which seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot. Besides which the blogger's theory that CSL's starting Narnia violated the Lewis/Tolkien space-travel/time-travel pact doesn't take into account other works Lewis or Tolkien had worked on during that time that didn't fit into either category, like JRRT's FARMER GILES or CSL's THE GREAT DIVORCE, to name but two.

        In short, too pat. Friendships are complicated, and the ending of a long-time one is tragic but hardly unprecedented or strange.

        --John R.

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