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Re: [mythsoc] RotK Theory

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  • David S Bratman
    ... That depends, in my view, entirely on how the author handles them. I do not see the world as Tolkien does: but Tolkien enables me to see it as he does.
    Message 1 of 63 , Apr 13, 2003
      At 04:26 PM 4/13/2003 -0400, Susan wrote:

      >Well, it's one of the more *glaring* examples of Providence, let us say; and
      >Tolkien's Providential worldview, in my experience, is one of the things that
      >people who don't like the book tend not to like about it. If you don't
      >believe in such things in the world, they merely seem hokey in fiction,
      >rather than wonderful.

      That depends, in my view, entirely on how the author handles them. I do
      not see the world as Tolkien does: but Tolkien enables me to see it as he
      does. That is the greatest achievement of any author, surely: to enable
      readers of different bents to see inside their minds and inhabit their

      >And if you do believe in them in the world, sometimes
      >they *still* seem hokey in fiction: "Signs" is a good example of this. I
      >have as Providential a worldview as anyone I know, and I detested that movie
      >because so much of it was cheap string-pulling; one of my parish priests felt
      >exactly the same way.

      I felt the same way, and so did Berni. Either Shyamalan doesn't really
      believe in the view his films propose, or he has a shallow and slick
      theology, which would be a shame considering the high level of his
      craft. The problem with "Signs" is that it postulates God pushing
      characters around like chess pieces, to accomplish weirdly specific things
      which, were God so immersed in minutiae, He could have arranged not to need
      to happen in the first place; and, were He so minded to do such things to
      cause characters to regain their faith, He is just as responsible for
      having caused them to lose it in the first place.

      Something similar is going on in the latest episodes of the TV series
      "Angel", where it is being postulated that all the characters have been
      moved around, and some indeed have been born in the first place, for the
      sole purpose of being in the right place at the right time to do specific
      things, usually either accidentally or otherwise inadvertently, when those
      things could just as easily have been accomplished in some other way.

      Tolkien does not do anything like that. His Providence never pushes around
      characters, it merely lays opportunities out for them, opportunities which
      the characters then have to seize, and by doing so, prove their
      mettle. For instance, Merry and Eowyn fulfill a prophecy when they kill
      the Witch-King, but they are never forced or manipulated into doing it:
      they each have to seize their courage on their own initiative, and do so
      more than once each, in order to get into that position. There is never
      any sense that either was born to do this one thing, or provided with a
      specific character trait in order to do it, the way Shyamalan does with his
      glasses of water and baseball bats.

      >Usually I find Tolkien's view of Providence moving and compelling. Sometimes
      >his symbolism strains my credibility, though, as when Aragorn finds the beryl
      >in the middle of the bridge: the elves have evidently been flinging
      >gemstones around just in case he passes that way, and the thing hasn't gotten
      >covered in mud, and none of the bad guys have found it first and picked it

      That is only improbable if one is minded to dismiss it casually.

      The Elves aren't "flinging" stones around on off-chances. Their minds
      don't work that way. We learn why the stone was there: Glorfindel left it
      as a token, as he tells Frodo when they meet. He was specifically looking
      for Frodo, and others looking in other directions might have left their own
      tokens, which do not come into this story. (And why was he
      looking? Because Elrond had sent him out. And why did Elrond do
      so? Glorfindel explains that too: because Gildor, the Elf that the hobbits
      had met in the Shire, had sent word that the Enemy was hunting Frodo. See?
      Tolkien leaves no loose ends to be explained by "somehow, I just knew.")

      Aragorn specifically takes its presence as a sign that it's safe to pass --
      I suppose because if the bad guys were around, they would have found it
      first, but more importantly because it tells him that Glorfindel, or
      someone like him, has been in the area recently, so he and the hobbits are
      not entirely alone and friendless in the wilderness. He is on the bridge
      specifically looking for tracks and clues, and if anyone can find a
      gemstone covered in mud, he can. (It _was_ in the mud: he says so.)

      >I suppose that scene could be compared to the later one when the three
      >hunters find the broach of Lothlorien, but I have far less trouble with the
      >second, for some reason.

      Perhaps because you've seen the occasion it was placed there, and why this
      was done; and in the vastness of Rohan, with the orcs already passing, it's
      less improbable for it not to have been found; and because by this time
      we've seen Aragorn's skill as a tracker, so we know what he can do.

      - David Bratman
    • 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
        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, 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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