Re: [mythsoc] Two questions
- In a message dated 8/4/2002 11:45:39 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> I think that you can't really prove any sort of a connection unless youIn a message dated 8/5/2002 6:21:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> actually do some statistics.
> Human psychology is not a "Push button A, get result B" matter, and it'snot
> necessary for every author who experienced war trauma to write fantasy, orIf that was meant as a reply to my statement above, that's a pretty silly
> 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.
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.
- In a message dated 8/11/2002 4:20:12 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> No, I think all of this is too vague to be proved, and certainly ShippeyAs the person who started this thread, allow me to clarify: I never thought
> hasn't proved it.
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
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
I hope this is clearer than whatever I originally said!
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- 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
\\>-- in *productive* (rather than "escapist") ways that aren't
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
- 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
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
- From: <SusanPal@...>
> *My* interest in pursuing the issue is to examinesort
> the ways in which fantasy allows people to respond to trauma -- of any
> -- in *productive* (rather than "escapist") ways that aren't possible inSusan, you need to get in contact with Dr. Bruce Leonard, a Colorado mythie.
> realist narrative.
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.
- In a message dated 8/12/2002 5:32:48 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> He found that patients who identified with Frodo had much, much betterWow. Good heavens! The LotR Personality Quiz: better than the Myer-Briggs
> chances of recovery than those who identified with Gollum. (Me, I never
> even conceived of someone identifying with Gollum.)
. . . .
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!
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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
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:
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,
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:
Nothing there about a beard (or lack of one), however.
>>--- Mysthoc message #6263discussion through the years. Happily, it can all be resolved with a
>>--- On Aug 7, 2002 6:17 pm, "michael_martinez2" <michael@...> wrote:
>>This whole "bearded Elves" issue has caused a great deal of
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 onGaladriel 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 publishedsome 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 growbeards 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 ofthe 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).
- --- In email@example.com, "Merlin DeTardo" <emptyD@...>
> I did read an interesting short essay on Denethor about a year
> that noted that his face is described in more detail than mostother
> 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