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Re: [mythsoc] Re: a matter of life and death

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  • Trudy Shaw
    ... From: Michael Martinez To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Friday, June 01, 2001 6:12 PM Subject: [mythsoc] Re: a matter of life and death The cornerstone of
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 2, 2001
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Michael Martinez
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Friday, June 01, 2001 6:12 PM
      Subject: [mythsoc] Re: a matter of life and death

      The cornerstone of Tolkien's myths
      is always tragedy: what happens when someone makes a choice? The
      consequences of choice were explored endlessly by the Greek poets.
      Without choice, Achilles would never have crept back to his lonely
      tent, heartbroken and jealous over a slave girl. Without choice,
      Priam would have ruled Troy forever, and Helen would have been
      forgotten as just another wife of some little-known Greek king.

      If a more modern writer were to take up the subject of what happens
      when an immortal elects to alter the natural balance (by tampering
      with nature or killing another immortal), the story would almost
      certainly turn upon the disruptions nature would experience. But
      when Tolkien explores these themes, the story turns upon the
      disruptions which individuals experience.

      First, a disclaimer: I am *in no way* any kind of a literary scholar. In college I had a double major in biology and chemistry and took one English class. But, once in awhile I hear something that makes some sense out of things and I try to remember it.

      One of these is a pair of definitions that I'm sure isn't technically correct in many ways, but seems to fit in a lot of circumstances: Comedy is extraordinary people doing ordinary things and drama (or tragedy) is ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

      A broad example of the first might be Lucy Riccardo putting up a Christmas tree--or the night watchman (whose name I don't know) just doing his job in (I think??) _Much Ado About Nothing_. (See, I told you I wasn't a literary scholar--but Michael Keaton did a great interpretation in the Kenneth Branaugh movie.)

      But it's the second definition that has struck me more often with its truth. In providing the world with hobbits--especially those hobbits who do "extraordinary things"-- Tolkien gave us a pretty obvious example of it. Now Michael's post has added a new dimension to the "truth" I find in this definition: At the personal level, *everyone* is ordinary. Napolean is a guy besotted with a woman who isn't in love with him but who stays around because of the perks. If you scratched just below the surface of many world leaders, you'd certainly find a boy who's trying to please his father. Michael's example of Achilles would also fit.

      Applying these thoughts to the definition of tragedy, the two paragraphs (above) which I pulled out of different parts of Michael's post would really go together. Perhaps one reason Tolkien's stories seem to have tragedy at their core is that he *does* tell his stories at the individual level--even when they involve the "high and mighty." In order for the human soul to *feel* tragedy, there has to be some kind of empathy with the tragic figure. Even if that person's very different from us, we need to find some point of connection. By bringing even nature-disrupting events to the personal level, Tolkien provides us with that connection to his characters.

      -- Trudy Shaw

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