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Elves question

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  • Steve Law
    Hi, I ve read somewhere that Tolkien s conception of elves was based on the idea that they were what humans should or could have been before the Fall of Man,
    Message 1 of 4 , Feb 12, 2002
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      Hi,

      I've read somewhere that Tolkien's conception of elves
      was based on the idea that they were what humans
      should or could have been before the Fall of Man, i.e.
      they are humanity perfected. I also recall reading
      Tolkien himself saying that we know virtually nothing
      of the original anglo-saxon or celtic (or whoever)
      beliefs about elves.

      Does anyone know if this is true? Is any of Tolkiens
      depiction from ancient sources or are there no such
      sources with regard to elves?

      Thanks,


      Steve Law

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    • Margaret Dean
      ... Not precisely. Here s Tolkien himself on the subject, from the LETTERS: Of course, in fact exterior to my story, Elves and Men are just different aspects
      Message 2 of 4 , Feb 12, 2002
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        Steve Law wrote:

        > I've read somewhere that Tolkien's conception of elves
        > was based on the idea that they were what humans
        > should or could have been before the Fall of Man, i.e.
        > they are humanity perfected.

        Not precisely. Here's Tolkien himself on the subject, from the
        LETTERS:

        "Of course, in fact exterior to my story, Elves and Men
        are just different aspects of the Humane, and represent
        the problem of Death as seen by a finite but willing and
        self-conscious person. In this mythological world the
        Elves and Men are in their incarnate forms kindred, but
        in the relation of their 'spirits' to the world in time
        represent different 'experiments', each of which has its
        own natural trend, and weakness. The Elves represent,
        as it were, the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific
        aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than
        is actually seen in Men."

        So no, they're not meant to be humanity perfected, but rather a
        counterpoint to humanity, with a different set of (possible)
        weaknesses and imperfections.

        The Debate of Finrod and Andreth (in MORGOTH'S RING) makes
        fascinating reading if you're interested in the different natures
        and viewpoints of Elves and Men.


        --Margaret Dean
        <margdean@...>
      • michael_martinez2
        ... There are virtually no extant stories about Elves in any of the Germanic mythologies I have studied. The Alfar are mentioned in a few places, and they
        Message 3 of 4 , Feb 12, 2002
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          --- In mythsoc@y..., Steve Law <purpleom@b...> wrote:
          > Hi,
          >
          > I've read somewhere that Tolkien's conception of elves
          > was based on the idea that they were what humans
          > should or could have been before the Fall of Man, i.e.
          > they are humanity perfected. I also recall reading
          > Tolkien himself saying that we know virtually nothing
          > of the original anglo-saxon or celtic (or whoever)
          > beliefs about elves.
          >
          > Does anyone know if this is true? Is any of Tolkiens
          > depiction from ancient sources or are there no such
          > sources with regard to elves?

          There are virtually no extant stories about Elves in any of the
          Germanic mythologies I have studied. The Alfar are mentioned in a
          few places, and they influenced a lot of names. Tom Shippey makes a
          very eloquent argument for Tolkien's remorse at the loss of what must
          have been a rich and very detailed folklore when the Normans
          conquered England, wiping out its literate class.

          Margaret Dean has cited the classic "aspects of the Humane" passage
          for you. Tolkien was very interested in death and why we fear it.
          He once said that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is about death and the search
          for deathlessness. His Elves feared death because even though they
          knew that their bodies would (or could) be resurrected within the
          bounds of Time, they were afraid they would cease to exist after
          Time. To the Elves, Men did not cease to exist after the body died,
          but to Men the death of the body is equivalent with the loss of
          existence.

          It is all ultimately a study of the fear of Not Being. Tolkien's
          Elves are in that sense very modern and really are not intended to
          resemble ancient mythological creatures. He used the motif of the
          Alfar (and the Sidhe of Irish/Gaelic folklore) to embody an artistic
          spirit which is keenly aware of its own limitations. Men are
          portrayed as being blind. The Bible teaches us that we are
          spiritually dead, reborn through our faith in Christ. I'm not sure
          of how it is phrased in Roman Catholic terms (and Tolkien was raised
          a devout Roman Catholic), but his Men are, in fact, spiritually dead,
          even though he says THE LORD OF THE RINGS takes place before Biblical
          history. The "fall" Men experience is an earlier fall, but it is one
          which nonetheless removes them from communion with God.

          The High Elves (Noldor) are removed from communion with their angelic
          mentors. It is not certain that they are removed from communion with
          Iluvatar (god), but then, he doesn't seem ever to have taken a direct
          interest in their affairs. In "The Tale of Adanel", Iluvatar speaks
          to Men one time, in anger. Of course, that speech is reported
          as "folklore". It is only what the Wise (among Men) teach succeeding
          generations. It may be nothing more than a metaphor for the
          rejection Men felt they had earned.

          The One Ring is a flagrant substitute for communion. It is a way for
          a false lord (the Dark Lord) to interact with all his (usurped)
          subjects, the peoples he has enslaved (or intends to enslave). It
          also offers the (false) prospect of deathlessness to both Men and
          Elves. To Men, the One Ring (and other Great Rings) holds out the
          hope of never dying. But the cruel irony of that fate is that you
          don't need to die to stop living. The Ringwraiths are proof of that.

          To Elves, the Rings of Power held out the prospect of never fading,
          which is equivalent to dying. A faded being has no physical body,
          and is called a wraith because all that remains is the spirit. For
          the Elves, fading could be forestalled or delayed by sailing over Sea
          to Valinor, where the Valar would rejuvenate them (although Tolkien
          wrote in one remarkable essay that the Valar themselves "faded" after
          a fashion). Sauron persuaded the Eregion Elves to try to duplicate
          what the Valar offered them in Middle-earth. So the Rings of Power
          were created chiefly to prevent decay, or the fading of the Elves and
          the things they cherished.

          Everyone really wants things to stay just as they are. In short, the
          Numenoreans and the Eldar (both of whom rebelled against the natural
          order established by Iluvatar) tried to stop Time. And any attempt
          to alter the natural order of things is seen as an act of rebellion.
          For each race, the motive was the same: they were afraid of what lay
          before them, because they could not see anything beyond their own
          deaths (death being relative to their natural fates).

          You won't find anything like this in ancient literature, although
          death was certainly a very popular motif in Greek and Norse
          mythology. But the ancients viewed it quite differently from the way
          we do. Modern man has rationalized the universe into neat little
          pockets, and one sometimes wonders if there is anything left for the
          spirit, for the soul. Tolkien was inevitably asking the age-old
          questions, "Is that all there is? Is there nothing more?" These
          questions lie at the heart of all mythologies, I think, but the
          Greeks became enraptured by the idea of beauty and the Scandinavians
          became engrossed in the glories of war. Their answers to the
          questions became institutionalized. Death succeeds life, and life
          succeeds death, and that's all there is. Accept it.

          Tolkien wanted a less definitive answer. Hope, I think, lies in not
          knowing, and the tragic irony for both Men and Elves in his mythology
          is that they didn't understand that. Instead of hope, they both
          found despair, and thus departed from the path Iluvatar had set
          before them. They lost their innocence and sense of wonder at
          exploring something new, and tried to cling selfishly to the familiar
          and comfortable things they had come to love.
        • David S. Bratman
          ... It s not dying I fear, it s being dead! - Philip Larkin
          Message 4 of 4 , Feb 12, 2002
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            At 10:20 AM 2/12/2002 , Michael Martinez wrote:

            >It is all ultimately a study of the fear of Not Being.

            "It's not dying I fear, it's being dead!" - Philip Larkin
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