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Re: Elves question

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  • 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 1 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 2 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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