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

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  • Joseph Furolo
    Hi Travis just a short note to thank you for this elegant and considered reply. I really appreciate how you pulled these strands together. Like it or not,
    Message 1 of 142 , Dec 21, 2012
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      Hi Travis
       
      just a short note to thank you for this elegant and considered reply. I really appreciate how you pulled these strands together. Like it or not, Jackson has cast his ingredients into the cauldron of story. And, even though he may have judged himself harshly, even Niggle could not help but get swept up into an ever expending vista. There are a lot of shortcomings to be sure  - but try to stop an expanding creation once the moment of singularity has passed. Tolkien is the singularity. Even Eru could not stop Melkor making his own music. Thank goodness - or there would be no Middle Earth to begin with!
       
      Thanks!


      On Friday, 21 December 2012, Travis Buchanan wrote:
       

      Regarding the 'numinous significance' of Tolkien's subcreation, which Toyin and others have drawn attention to, I was immediately reminded of several things Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings in his letters.

      First, there is Tolkien's response (confession?) to Father Robert Murray (Letter 142) on the religious significance of LotR, given the year before the publication of the first two volumes:

      The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know.

      As he admitted to Milton Waldman a few years prior (in the famous 10,000-word Letter 131), regarding the impoverished history of peculiarly English myth and fairy-story, he felt the 'Arthurian world', 'powerful as it is',

      is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its 'faerie' is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion. For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay ['On Fairy-stories'], which you read.)

      Thus, Tolkien's decision to absorb 'the [Catholic] religious element' 'into the story and the symbolism'. This makes Middle-earth numinously significant for many readers, as Toyin and others have expressed, but unlike certain forms of allegory, still leaves room for interpreting the exact nature and effect of the religious significance and symbolism. This differs from reader to reader (compare Toyin's and Sarah's reactions, for example), and this is a distinguishing characteristic of good myth as opposed to allegory. As C. S. Lewis memorably observed in his brilliant review of The Fellowship of the Ring, 'What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to a specifically theological, or political, or psychological application. A myth points, for each reader, to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key; use it on what door you like.'

      Moreover, as its author, Tolkien likened himself to (imperfectly) fulfilling the role of a ‘chosen instrument’ through which a light of sanctity shone out in and through the story:

      I have never since been able to suppose so [that I wrote all of The Lord of the Rings unaided or by myself, without depending on inspiration from already existing materials]. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff anyone up who considers the imperfections of ‘chosen instruments’, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.

      You speak of ‘a sanity and sanctity’ in the L.R. ‘which is a power in itself’. I was deeply moved. Nothing of the kind had been said to me before. But by a strange chance, just as I was beginning this letter, I had one from a man, who classified himself as ‘an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling . . . but you’, he said, ‘create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp’. I can only answer: ‘Of his own sanity no man can securely judge. If sanctity inhabits his work or as a pervading light illumines it then it does not come from him but through him. And neither of you would perceive it in these terms unless it was with you also. Otherwise you would see and feel nothing, or (if some other spirit was present) you would be filled with contempt, nausea, hatred. “Leaves out of the elf-country, gah!” “Lembas—dust and ashes, we don’t eat that.”’

      Of course The L.R. does not belong to me. It has been brought forth and must now go its appointed way in the world, though naturally I take a deep interest in its fortunes, as a parent would of a child. I am comforted to know that it has good friends to defend it against the malice of its enemies. (But all the fools are not in the other camp.) (Letter 328, pp. 413–14)

      (This last paragraph is especially relevant to the ongoing debate of the value of Jackson's screen adaptations of Tolkien's books. Should Jackson be conceived of as a 'malicious enemy' of LotR before whom 'good friends' of the work must 'defend it'? I have a feeling we all know what Bratman would say, but it is certainly debatable. Slot-machines aside, I remain unconvinced the movies have done more harm than good for the 'fortunes' of LotR, though based on his sole interview, Christopher Tolkien apparently would disagree.)

      Tolkien's views as expressed in this letter recall some lines from his poem ‘Mythopoeia’--that through good myth or fairy-story there shines a semi-divine (because refracted) light. This is because

      The heart of man is not compound of lies,

      but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,

      and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,

      man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

      Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,

      and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,

      his world-dominion by creative act:

      not his to worship the great Artefact,

      man, sub-creator, the refracted light

      through whom is splintered from a single White

      to many hues, and endlessly combined

      in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

      (1988/2001, 87)

      Hence Tolkien's loving correction of Lewis's misguided sentiment regarding 'myth and fairy-story' which Tolkien related in his 1939 lecture on ‘Fairy-stories’, when he referred to ‘a letter [i.e., the posthumously published poem 'Mythopoeia'] I once wrote to a man who described myth and fairy-story as “lies”; though to do him justice he was kind enough and confused enough to call fairy-story making ‘Breathing a lie through Silver”’ (1947/64, 49). By 28 September 1931, a mere nine days following a fateful late-night conversation between Lewis, Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson (regarding which Tolkien's poem was addressed to Lewis in response), is a conversion: Lewis will write that he has ‘just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. . . . My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it’ (CL I, 973).

      Travis


      On Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 4:25 PM, OLUWATOYIN ADEPOJU <tvade3@...> wrote:
       

      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.

      toyin


      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

      --
      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




      --
      Compcros
      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
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        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'.

        Travis


        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.

        Dale


        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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