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Tolkien on Elf beards (was Re: Two questions)

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  • michael_martinez2
    ... This whole bearded Elves issue has caused a great deal of discussion through the years. Happily, it can all be resolved with a few citations....which I
    Message 1 of 17 , Aug 7, 2002
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
      > At 05:55 PM 8/4/2002 , Susan wrote:
      >
      > >1. JRRT says somewhere, does he not, that the Elves are
      > > beardless? And yet near the end of "The Grey Havens," Cirdan
      > > the Shipwright is described as having a long beard. He's Elven,
      > > no? Can anyone resolve this?
      >
      > There's an implication buried somewhere, probably in _Unfinished
      > Tales_, that Elves are beardless, and that's the way they're
      > certainly normally seen. Yet this is something on which Tolkien
      > must have changed his mind at some point, for at some other time
      > he wrote that Cirdan has a beard.

      This whole "bearded Elves" issue has caused a great deal of
      discussion through the years. Happily, it can all be resolved with a
      few citations....which I am unable to provide, because I'm about to
      leave work and don't know when my Internet access at home will be
      restored. Still, here is what I can recall on my own. Treat it as a
      rough summation of the facts, subject to correction at a later time.


      The passage in UNFINISHED TALES is found in the chapter on Galadriel
      and Celeborn and is in one of the appendices. It concerns Prince
      Imrahil's Elvish ancestry, and Christopher Tolkien paraphrases some
      late-life essay of his father's. Many readers have taken this as the
      final word in Elf beards.

      But it's not. A couple of issues back, VINYAR TENGWAR published some
      additional material for "The Shibboleth of Feanor". In one of the
      notes associated with this material, JRRT writes that Nerdanel's
      father was remarkable for having grown a beard in the Second Cycle
      (of his life).

      The reader is left to infer that all male Elves normally grow beards
      when they reach their Third Cycle (no clues, yet, as to what defines
      a cycle of life). Cirdan, by inference (rather than implication,
      since the note does not mention him), must have long since reached
      his Third Cycle by the end of the Third Age.

      Since Denethor sports a long white beard, and since the statue of the
      Gondorian king by the crossroads (where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum watch
      the army from Minas Morgul pass by) has a beard, it must be accepted
      that Dunadan men DID grow beards, but perhaps because of their Elvish
      ancestry (THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH says that the Stewards
      were "ultimately of royal origin"), some of the Dunedain did not grow
      beards until THEIR Third Cycle (or some Dunadan/half-elf equivalent
      of the full Elvish Third Cycle).
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      In a message dated 8/4/2002 11:45:39 PM Eastern Daylight Time, ... In a message dated 8/5/2002 6:21:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time, ... not ... If that was meant
      Message 2 of 17 , Aug 11, 2002
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        In a message dated 8/4/2002 11:45:39 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
        WendellWag@... writes:

        > I think that you can't really prove any sort of a connection unless you
        > actually do some statistics.

        In a message dated 8/5/2002 6:21:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
        dbratman@... writes:

        > Human psychology is not a "Push button A, get result B" matter, and it's
        not
        > necessary for every author who experienced war trauma to write fantasy, or
        > every fantasy to be the result of war trauma (these days, in particular,
        > many fantasies are the result of writers aping other writers) for there to
        > be a connection.

        If that was meant as a reply to my statement above, that's a pretty silly
        misinterpretation of what I was saying. Obviously it's not true that every
        writer who experienced war trauma wrote fantasy, or that every writer who
        writes fantasy has experienced war trauma. If I had meant something trivial
        like that, why would I have mentioned using statistics? Categorical
        statements (ones of the form "All X are Y") don't require the use of
        statistics for either a rigorous or a loose proof. All you have to do is
        list all writers (or at least a sufficiently large set of them) and check if
        there are any counterexamples to the statement. If you find any
        counterexamples at all, you've disproved the statement. That's simple
        enumeration, not statistics.

        Look, there are several claims we could make about the relationship of war
        trauma and writing fantasy. Even before you can make any claim, you have to
        specify the set over which you're making the claim. So let's say that the
        set is all twentieth century fiction writers in English. You could make the
        following categorical claims: (a) Any fiction writer (of the twentieth
        century in English) who suffered war trauma wrote fantasy, or (b) Any fiction
        writer (of the twentieth century in English) who wrote fantasy suffered war
        trauma, or (c) A fiction writer (of the twentieth century in English)
        suffered war trauma if and only if he wrote fantasy.

        Disproving one of these categorical statements is pretty easy once we collect
        information about a large set of fiction writers (of the twentieth century in
        English). (Henceforth, you may add the qualification "of the twentieth
        century in English" whenever I speak of fiction writers.) If you find any
        example of a fiction writer who suffered war trauma but didn't write fantasy,
        you've disproved statement (a). If you find any example of a fiction writer
        who wrote fantasy but didn't suffer war trauma, you've disproved statement
        (b). If you find any example of either a fiction writer who suffered war
        trauma but didn't write fantasy or of a fiction writer who wrote fantasy but
        didn't suffer war trauma, you've disproved statement (c). If you've actually
        collected information about every single fiction writer and used that as your
        source of data, then you've rigorously proved the statements if you can't
        find any such counterexamples. If you've only collected information about a
        large set of fiction writers (say, several hundred of them), then you've only
        loosely proved the statements if you can't find any counterexamples.

        But any of the statements (a), (b), or (c) are pretty ridiculous claims, and
        I don't think anyone has ever said something so silly. Anyone of us could
        quickly come up with some obvious counterexamples to all those statements.
        What I was talking about were statistical statements. The following
        statistical claims could be made: (d) Among all fiction writers who suffered
        war trauma, the proportion who wrote fantasy is greater than among those
        fiction writers didn't suffer war trauma, or (e) Among all fiction writers
        who wrote fantasy, the proportion who suffered war trauma is greater than
        among those fiction writers who didn't write fantasy. To prove either
        statement, we would have to count the following groups:

        Set I: Fiction writers who suffered war trauma and wrote fantasy
        Set II: Fiction writers who suffered war trauma and didn't write fantasy
        Set III: Fiction writers who didn't suffer war trauma and wrote fantasy
        Set IV: Fiction writers who didn't suffer war trauma and didn't write fantasy

        Suppose that we found, for instance, that in the sample we did there were 131
        people in set I, 47 people in set II, 207 people in set III, and 752 people
        in set IV, we've proved both statements (d) and (e). The proportion of
        fiction writers in set I divided by the total number of fiction writers who
        suffered war trauma is 131/178, so 73.6% of fiction writers who suffered war
        trauma have written fantasy. The proportion of fiction writers in set III
        divided by the total number of fiction writers who didn't suffer war trauma
        is 207/959, so 21.6% of fiction writers who didn't suffer war trauma have
        written fantasy. So statement (d) is true, since among fiction writers who
        suffered war trauma, the proportion who wrote fantasy is greater than the
        proportion among fiction writers who didn't suffer war trauma.

        Furthermore, statement (e) would also be true if those numbers were true.
        The proportion of people in set I divided by the total number of fiction
        writers who wrote fantasy is 131/338, so 38.8% of fiction writers who wrote
        fantasy suffered war trauma. The proportion of fiction writers in set II
        divided by the total number of non-fantasy writers is 47/799, so 5.9% of
        fiction writers who didn't write fantasy suffered war trauma.

        (I'm going to ignore the matter of statistical significance, since that would
        be even harder to explain. It's not sufficient to show that one proportion
        is larger than another. It's also necessary to show that the set you've
        chosen is large enough that the numbers would hold up if you looked at the
        entire set over which you've chosen to make your claim. If someone ever does
        such a statistical test as I've explained above, be sure you get a
        statistician to check the statistical significance of your numbers.)

        What Shippey did was none of the above. He listed perhaps half a dozen
        writers, each of which he claimed wrote fantasy and suffered war trauma
        (i.e., members of set I). That proves absolutely nothing. I think that all
        of us could, with a few minutes of thought, come up with members of sets I,
        II, III, and IV. The absolute most that does is suggest that maybe something
        might be proved if they did a big survey as I suggest.

        Furthermore, Shippey is vague about both the terms "fantasy" and "war
        trauma." What's fantasy? Unless you have a definition for it precise enough
        that no one can fudge things by moving writers from one category to another,
        how can you split things up into the sets given above? What's war trauma?
        He lists people who were in three different wars (World War I, World War II,
        and the Spanish Civil War), and he's vague about whether it's necessary to be
        in combat. For that matter, wouldn't being a civilian caught up in the
        fighting of a war be "war trauma" just as much as being a soldier in combat?
        No, I think all of this is too vague to be proved, and certainly Shippey
        hasn't proved it.

        Wendell Wagner
      • SusanPal@aol.com
        In a message dated 8/11/2002 4:20:12 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... As the person who started this thread, allow me to clarify: I never thought Shippey had or
        Message 3 of 17 , Aug 11, 2002
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          In a message dated 8/11/2002 4:20:12 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
          WendellWag@... writes:


          > No, I think all of this is too vague to be proved, and certainly Shippey
          > hasn't proved it.
          >

          As the person who started this thread, allow me to clarify: I never thought
          Shippey had or hadn't proved anything. At most, he pointed out an intriguing
          set of correspondences. *My* interest in pursuing the issue is to examine
          the ways in which fantasy allows people to respond to trauma -- of any sort
          -- in *productive* (rather than "escapist") ways that aren't possible in
          realist narrative.

          Terri Windling's essay "Surviving Childhood" is an excellent example of the
          kind of thing I'm talking about. Because she recognized her own very dire
          childhood circumstances in the fairy tales she was reading, she was able to
          escape -- literally and physically -- from an extremely destructive
          situation. (What's that line in "On Fairy Stories" about how the only people
          who disapprove of escape are jailors?) I'm interested in how writers and
          readers use fantasy as a key to release themselves from various real prisons,
          and in the ways in which fantasy sometimes fits those locks better than
          mimesis would.

          I hope this is clearer than whatever I originally said!

          Susan


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        • ckostyn
          On Sun, 11 Aug 2002 19:35:00 EDT, SusanPal@aol.com scribed: *My* interest in pursuing the issue is to examine the ways in which fantasy allows people to
          Message 4 of 17 , Aug 11, 2002
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            On Sun, 11 Aug 2002 19:35:00 EDT, SusanPal@... scribed:
            *My* interest in pursuing the issue is to examine
            \\>the ways in which fantasy allows people to respond to trauma -- of
            any sort
            \\>-- in *productive* (rather than "escapist") ways that aren't
            possible in
            \\>realist narrative.

            This is an interesting topic. I know someone who grew up through
            assorted abusive situations, reform school, prison, etc. She did
            eventually pull her life together but she survived prison (which she
            calls the "belly of the beast") by writing fantasy fiction.

            This does seem to be a common way to deal with assorted traumatic
            events and life circumstances, whether writing or reading fantas
            fiction.


            Catherine K.
          • David S. Bratman
            Wendell, as the disproving of your proposed statements a, b, and c is the essence of what I was saying in 3 sentences, I m not sure why you devoted (by my
            Message 5 of 17 , Aug 12, 2002
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              Wendell, as the disproving of your proposed statements a, b, and c is the
              essence of what I was saying in 3 sentences, I'm not sure why you devoted
              (by my e-mail program's count) 10 KB to tell me the same thing.

              I've gone back and re-read your original post, and I still think my comment
              was worth making, and not "a pretty silly misinterpretation." In
              particular, I think your proposed statistical survey would not prove
              anything. There are too few writers of genius in any place and time to
              demonstrate that any trend is statistically significant. More importantly,
              they differ entirely in temperament and reaction to influences.

              If Shippey is correct, and Tolkien, Lewis, White, et al., wrote as they did
              at least partly in response to war trauma, it still does not at all
              necessarily follow that any other writers (let alone a statistically
              significant number) must have done the same thing. In other words, a
              statistical survey with a negative result would not disprove Shippey's
              hypothesis.

              And if a statistically significant number of writers did do as Shippey
              suggests, that does not prove that any given one of them did so for the
              reasons he suggests. If (let us suggest) the Jackson film appealed to
              audiences because it's an action film, that does not prove that I went to
              see it twice because I like action films (I don't).

              How then can Shippey's hypothesis be proved? By a counter-example
              scientific procedure, as you propose, it can't. Which is surely why
              Shippey did not claim to have proven anything, as Janet noted. It can only
              be judged probable on a case-by-case test: Here's a bunch of writers who
              all experienced this, and who all wrote this way, and here's the evidence
              (concrete resemblance between their fiction and the reality they
              experienced; comments they made about their fiction and why they wrote)
              that there's a connection. This is how evidentiary technique in literary
              criticism usually works. Shippey's arguments in this mode seemed
              satisfactory to me. Statistics about writers as a whole would add nothing
              to this.

              David Bratman
            • Berni Phillips
              From: ... sort ... Susan, you need to get in contact with Dr. Bruce Leonard, a Colorado mythie. He s a psychiatrist in Columbine. At this
              Message 6 of 17 , Aug 12, 2002
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                From: <SusanPal@...>

                > *My* interest in pursuing the issue is to examine
                > the ways in which fantasy allows people to respond to trauma -- of any
                sort
                > -- in *productive* (rather than "escapist") ways that aren't possible in
                > realist narrative.

                Susan, you need to get in contact with Dr. Bruce Leonard, a Colorado mythie.
                He's a psychiatrist in Columbine. At this most recent Mythcon, Dan Timmons
                showed the video he had been filming last year, which includes interviews
                with various members of the Mythopoeic Society.

                In the video, Bruce said that, in his practice, he found that many of his
                younger patients had read _The Lord of the Rings_. He eventually caught on
                that finding who they identified with was a tremendous indicator of how
                badly damaged they were and the prospect of recovery. (I'm probably
                misrepresenting him terribly, but this is my impression of what was said.)
                He found that patients who identified with Frodo had much, much better
                chances of recovery than those who identified with Gollum. (Me, I never
                even conceived of someone identifying with Gollum.)

                Some years earlier (the first Colorado Mythcon?) he gave a splendid paper on
                Frodo as a sufferer of post-tramatic stress syndrome.

                Berni
              • SusanPal@aol.com
                In a message dated 8/12/2002 5:32:48 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... Wow. Good heavens! The LotR Personality Quiz: better than the Myer-Briggs . . . . This
                Message 7 of 17 , Aug 12, 2002
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                  In a message dated 8/12/2002 5:32:48 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
                  bernip@... writes:


                  > He found that patients who identified with Frodo had much, much better
                  > chances of recovery than those who identified with Gollum. (Me, I never
                  > even conceived of someone identifying with Gollum.)
                  >

                  Wow. Good heavens! The LotR Personality Quiz: better than the Myer-Briggs
                  . . . .

                  This does sound fascinating (and someone else mentioned his name a while ago;
                  I've been really slow about responding to posts because I just got a bear of
                  a work project off my back this morning). Thanks for the recommendation!

                  Susan


                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                • Merlin DeTardo
                  I was searching for something else when I stumbled on this interesting old post, but I can t find that there was ever any follow- up on one small point, by
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jan 5, 2007
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                    I was searching for something else when I stumbled on this
                    interesting old post, but I can't find that there was ever any follow-
                    up on one small point, by Michael Martinez or anyone else:

                    "...Denethor sports a long white beard..."

                    Was Denethor bearded? I didn't know that, and I can't find a
                    reference to it in The Lord of the Rings. Does anyone have a
                    citation?

                    I know of a website that purports to list the eye and hair colors
                    (including beards) of all the characters in LotR, The Hobbit, The
                    Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales:

                    http://www.lcwsites.org/~lisa/colors.html

                    but even if that site is completely accurate, merely not listing a
                    beard color for Denethor doesn't mean there is no beard, only that
                    its color is not given in the text of those books.

                    Is Denethor described as having a beard elsewhere? In LotR drafts,
                    perhaps?

                    I did read an interesting short essay on Denethor about a year ago
                    that noted that his face is described in more detail than most other
                    characters in LotR:

                    http://www.theonering.net/rumour_mill/rpg/viewer/readingroom/43A9E62C0
                    0023776.html

                    Nothing there about a beard (or lack of one), however.

                    -Merlin DeTardo


                    >>--- Mysthoc message #6263
                    >>--- On Aug 7, 2002 6:17 pm, "michael_martinez2" <michael@...> wrote:
                    >>This whole "bearded Elves" issue has caused a great deal of
                    discussion through the years. Happily, it can all be resolved with a
                    few citations....which I am unable to provide, because I'm about to
                    leave work and don't know when my Internet access at home will be
                    restored. Still, here is what I can recall on my own. Treat it as a
                    rough summation of the facts, subject to correction at a later time.

                    >>The passage in UNFINISHED TALES is found in the chapter on
                    Galadriel and Celeborn and is in one of the appendices. It concerns
                    Prince Imrahil's Elvish ancestry, and Christopher Tolkien paraphrases
                    some late-life essay of his father's. Many readers have taken this
                    as the final word in Elf beards.

                    >>But it's not. A couple of issues back, VINYAR TENGWAR published
                    some additional material for "The Shibboleth of Feanor". In one of
                    the notes associated with this material, JRRT writes that Nerdanel's
                    father was remarkable for having grown a beard in the Second Cycle
                    (of his life).

                    >>The reader is left to infer that all male Elves normally grow
                    beards when they reach their Third Cycle (no clues, yet, as to what
                    defines a cycle of life). Cirdan, by inference (rather than
                    implication, since the note does not mention him), must have long
                    since reached his Third Cycle by the end of the Third Age.

                    >>Since Denethor sports a long white beard, and since the statue of
                    the Gondorian king by the crossroads (where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum
                    watch the army from Minas Morgul pass by) has a beard, it must be
                    accepted that Dunadan men DID grow beards, but perhaps because of
                    their Elvish ancestry (THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH says that the
                    Stewards were "ultimately of royal origin"), some of the Dunedain did
                    not grow beards until THEIR Third Cycle (or some Dunadan/half-elf
                    equivalent of the full Elvish Third Cycle).
                  • William Cloud Hicklin
                    ... ago ... other ... In the absence of other evidence, I would apply ejusdem generis here and say he was (probably) beardless. Of course that says nothing
                    Message 9 of 17 , Jan 5, 2007
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                      --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Merlin DeTardo" <emptyD@...>
                      wrote:


                      >
                      > I did read an interesting short essay on Denethor about a year
                      ago
                      > that noted that his face is described in more detail than most
                      other
                      > characters in LotR:

                      In the absence of other evidence, I would apply ejusdem generis
                      here and say he was (probably) beardless. Of course that says
                      nothing about his genetics, just his razor.

                      Take MM with a grain of salt- he does tend to extrapolate
                      "facts" where there are only possibilities. The "true" answer is
                      dormitat Homerus: Tolkien really wasn't paying attention when he
                      stuck beards on Cirdan and the ancient statue. Convincing as
                      Tolkien is, there isn't actually an underlying reality to be
                      plumbed!
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