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Re: [mythsoc] RotK Theory

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  • David S Bratman
    Susan - Your student s perception is impressive, but one hardly needs the Tale of Years to verify the coinciding of the times. Three paragraphs after Sam s
    Message 1 of 63 , Apr 13 11:43 AM
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      Susan -

      Your student's perception is impressive, but one hardly needs the Tale of
      Years to verify the coinciding of the times. Three paragraphs after Sam's
      request, he points out that the wind now _has_ changed (which is the
      physical cause of the darkness breaking up - the "Meteorologist" is not
      wrong) and that the darkness is going; and Tolkien immediately follows this
      by tying the events to the chronology of the other story: "It was the
      morning of the fifteenth of March, and over the Vale of Anduin the Sun was
      rising above the eastern shadow, and the south-west wind was
      blowing. Theoden lay dying in the Pelennor Fields."

      But it's the previous evening, I think, that Ghan-buri-ghan senses the same
      thing, and his final words to Theoden and Eomer are "Wind is changing!"
      (Book 5, chapter 5) Before the end of the chapter, a rider named Widfara
      remarks that he too can sense it, and then Merry does also. This is
      evidently still before evidence of the change reaches Sam much further
      east, because the battle (not yet begun when Merry feels the wind) begins
      around daybreak and goes on for some time before Theoden is attacked, which
      is what's going on when Sam speaks in the morning. (cf "Day was coming
      again in the world outside," a few paragraphs earlier in Book 6 chapter 2)

      As far as these events are concerned, the wind is merely symbolic and
      heartening (to the good guys) and disheartening (to the bad) - as the
      darkness, apart from making it hard to see, is a spiritual not a physical
      attack - but it does also have one important practical effect: this is the
      same wind that brings Aragorn's ships up the Anduin. Gimli (in chapter 9)
      reports: "But at midnight hope was indeed born anew. Sea-crafty men of the
      Ethir gazing southward spoke of a change coming with a fresh wind from the
      Sea. Long ere day the masted ships hoisted sail; and our speed grew, until
      dawn whitened the foam at our prows."

      So the change in the wind is not a direct and immediate result of Galadriel
      monitoring Sam's wishes (which would be a cheap, mechanistic, and very
      un-Tolkienian way of proceeding), but had already begun though he didn't
      know it. It need not be supernatural for Sam to wish for daylight just
      before it comes; is it so for Legolas to tell Gimli not to give up hope,
      not long before the wind changes on the river? Foresight, and hopes
      fulfilled, are constant themes in Tolkien, and they're not matters of
      sneaking a peek ahead a few pages in the Book of Life.

      You speak of the sunbreak as a "providential coincidence" as if that were a
      criticism. But how is that so? "Providential" is exactly what it is, and
      you don't need me to tell you the role of Providence in Tolkien, and what
      it meant for him, and what he thought Providence actually was. (Why do you
      think Roger Williams used that word as the name of his city?) The
      difference between Tolkien and lesser writers is that they don't believe,
      or don't really believe, in Providence, and use the term as excuse to sail
      over plot difficulties; whereas Tolkien does really believe, and part of
      the story's moral purpose is to illustrate the role that Providence pays in
      human affairs: this is hardly the only instance.

      - David Bratman


      At 11:54 PM 4/12/2003 -0400, Susan wrote:
      >When I taught my Tolkien course this past fall, we speculated about why the
      >sun comes out so fortuitously at the end of the "Ride of the Rohirrim"
      >chapter in RotK, thereby conveniently scattering the hosts of Mordor. Even
      >for Tolkien, the providential coincidence seems a bit thick. But then one of
      >my students -- very impressively, I thought -- connected this event to Sam's
      >prayer to Galadriel for "clean water and plain daylight" in "The Land of
      >Shadow" chapter. She points out that the Tale of Years' entry for March 15
      >suggests that the two things happen at the same time; in other words, because
      >Sam prays for sunlight in Mordor, the sun comes out for the Rohirrim, too.
      >
      >(Another student, before this particular theory was raised, had come up with
      >a jaw-droppingly complex explanation having to do with weather and
      >thermoclines and what the winds would have been doing based on some
      >description of weather *before* "The Ride of the Rohirrim." This earned him
      >the designation "The Meteorologist of Middle Earth," a nickname he may never
      >live down.)
      >
      >Anyway, I love her theory, and comparing the two passages, it looks as if the
      >timing could fit. Has anyone else noticed this or commented upon it? Is
      >this something that every other Tolkien expert knows?
    • David S. Bratman
      ... Yes. ... Bad can still be enjoyable. I know people who enjoy this stuff, but mostly because they read it in impressionable youth. That doesn t make it
      Message 63 of 63 , May 18, 2003
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        At 07:09 PM 5/16/2003 , Ernest wrote:

        >It hardly matters anyway, because the plot of _Forbidden Planet_,
        >although obviously derivative from _The Tempest_, is not the same as that
        >of _The Tempest_ except in its broadest outlines.

        Yes.

        >Yes, E. E. Smith's prose was preciously purple, but is it really _bad_?
        >I think it's quite enjoyable, in truth.

        Bad can still be enjoyable. I know people who enjoy this stuff, but mostly
        because they read it in impressionable youth. That doesn't make it any
        less bad.


        >I honestly prefer Doc Smith's heavily stylized but exciting pulp style
        >to the styles that are in vogue today. I think I might have actually
        >finished (say) _Moving Mars_ if Doc Smith had written it.

        That might be in large part because it would be shorter and punchier if Doc
        Smith wrote it. Not for the quality of the prose. SF prose today may well
        be, as you say, largely mediocre: but mediocre is still much better than bad.


        >If you want bad writing, try rereading _Foundation_ or its successors
        >again. Oy! Asimov at his best was top-notch--I'll put "The Dead Past"
        >on the list of best short stories I've read, SF or no--but he was rarely
        >at his best.

        I've re-read the Foundation books, and I've re-read SF from the 30s. The
        Foundation books' prose, while still pulpish, is a significant advance over
        the typical 30s product. I agree that it's hardly worth holding up to
        praise, either, and Asimov himself in later life would not have done so.

        How to identify Asimov's better fictional prose: 1) he wrote it after 1950
        [that eliminates the original Foundation books, which despite their
        copyright dates were written & published in the 1940s]; 2) he did not write
        it at the behest of his publishers [that eliminates the dreadful late
        novels, which were all written because the publishers wanted new novels
        from him, as well as various lame series fiction]. His best fiction was
        some (not all) of his 1950s novels, and much of his stand-alone short
        fiction from circa 1950 onwards.

        The Niven piece on teleportion is "The Theory and Practice of
        Teleportation", in his 1971 paperback collection _All the Myriad Ways_, but
        probably not elsewhere. The ideas he discusses in this essay he put to use
        in a story a couple years later titled "Flash Crowd" (in his 1973 pb
        collection _The Flight of the Horse_, and probably elsewhere). This story
        is now considered somewhat prescient, as "flash crowd" is now an
        established term for crowds of people who form on extremely short notice,
        through word of mouth (spread not by teleporter but cell phone) where
        something interesting is happening.

        - David Bratman
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