FoTR - At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony: Bk I, Chapter VIIII

A chapter by chapter as well as general discussion of Tolkien's masterpiece
marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:01 pm

Merry wrote:Farley's rusks? No idea, Iolanthe!

I guess I've always thought that Tolkien had eucharistic bread in mind, at least in part, when he wrote about lembas.


That makes a lot of sense, Merry, although I've never made the connection before. I wonder if there's anything in HoME about it?

Farley's Rusks are biscuits which are fed to babies when they start weaning, to start them off on solids. Must admit I never thought of lembas that way myself. In fact, I can't remember how I first imagined lembas - the films have got in the way in that respect! :(

As for the Rangers, I've always thought of them like Aragorn when we first meet him in the book - loners, no baggage, no kids!
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Kirill Leonov
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Postby Kirill Leonov » Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:07 am

Thanks for the explanation.

Well, in that case I'll be a really young Ranger running around on my own! :D
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Postby Merry » Thu Sep 11, 2008 1:39 pm

Are there other 'rusks' than Farley's? Is it a common word for this type of food? (I'm always fascinated by English!)
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Postby marbretherese » Thu Sep 11, 2008 3:10 pm

Merry wrote:Are there other 'rusks' than Farley's? Is it a common word for this type of food? (I'm always fascinated by English!)


There are other rusks (including organic), but Farleys is such a recognised brand in the UK that when Heinz took it over and threatened to change the name, there was a tremendous fuss. So now they are known as Heinz Farleys Rusks!!

Web definitions of 'rusk' include:

1. A light, soft-textured sweetened biscuit.
2. Sweet raised bread dried and browned in an oven.
3. a hard brown crisp biscuit, often used for feeding babies [Spanish or Portuguese rosca screw, bread shaped in a twist]
4. a slice of sweet raised bread baked again until it is brown and hard and crisp

All a long way from lembas!
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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Postby Merry » Thu Sep 11, 2008 4:49 pm

Thanks, marbretherese. I never heard the word before!
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Postby Iolanthe » Thu Sep 11, 2008 7:14 pm

1. A light, soft-textured sweetened biscuit.

This is exactly what I think lembas is like :lol: . I actually knew an adult who was addicted to Farley's Rusks as a tea-break treat dipped in in tea. So it's not so long ago that I tasted them. They weren't at all bad!

I think the possible Communion Bread connection is fascinating - I can't imagine why it's never crossed my mind before. I have though of the Manna in the OT, which can sustain a grown man accross 40 years of desert wilderness all by itself.
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Postby Merry » Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:31 pm

Right! And we (Catholics) are taught that manna is a kind of symbolic precursor to the eucharist.
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Postby Kirill Leonov » Tue Sep 16, 2008 2:29 pm

I didn't have any Bible associations myself. That would have destroyed the lovely fantasy atmosphere. :)
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Postby Merry » Tue Sep 16, 2008 4:28 pm

I'm not sure why it would have destroyed it, Kirill. Have you read Tolkien's essay on Faery? He does a lot of explaining there about the relationship between faery (does he ever use the term 'fantasy' when he describes his work?) and religion.
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Postby Kirill Leonov » Tue Sep 16, 2008 9:58 pm

Yes, I did, though I must admit it was several ages of the world ago. :)

He may not use the word himself, but he practically defined that genre. He IS fantasy. And to me Christianity is out of place in a fantasy environment. Underlying values yes (most religions share these, really), but "genuinely Christian" stuff like communion and so on? Nah. To me, a lot is about atmosphere, and this just doesn't belong there, to me, so it's pretty much an atmosphere killer.
That was what bothered me about the Narnia books too: it was so blatantly and obviously Christian that I got annoyed with it. Give me gods and monsters and warriors who serve a code of honour, not the sign of the cross, when I'm looking for fantasy. For the other stuff I read the legends about knights, which is a different genre.

But it seems there is at least some disagreement on this point.
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Postby Merry » Wed Sep 17, 2008 12:00 am

Yes, indeed: I disagree most vehemently! :twisted: I guess we could discuss whether Christianity belongs in fantasy or not. But I don't think of Tolkien as fantasy (yes, we would have to define the word) and I'm not really interested in fantasy. In fact, now that I think of it, what is precisely missing from most fantasy, those superficial imitators of Tolkien, is the depth of meaning, Eru in the background, singleness of purpose, sacrifice, and sacramentality that grew out of Tolkien's lived experience as a devout religious practictioner.

(My most recent theory about what LOTR is, if it is not fantasy, is that it is a Christian romantic mythologizing of Tolkien's experience in WWI--thank you, John Garth!)

And Tolkien writes in one of the letters that LOTR is a fundamentally Catholic/Christian work. So that cannot be denied, no matter what people think about religion or Catholic Christianity. As I've said before, I agree with you about Narnia, but what I don't like about Narnia is that it makes religion superficial and one of many childish myths.

The really interesting question, then, in my mind is what Tolkien meant by the statement that LOTR was a "fundamentally Catholic" work. He was too precise a thinker and writer to mean that it was what all (or at least most) religions share with humanism.

And finally, just to stir up more argument with you, I think Tolkien would not have thought the legends about knights are a different genre!
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Postby Lindariel » Wed Sep 17, 2008 4:35 pm

Merry, I looked up the reference you cited in the Letters. It is from Letter #142 to Robert Murray, S.J. Here is the excerpt in context:

I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded. The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion,' to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel.


I wanted to look the quote up primarily to see whether Tolkien capitalized the word "Catholic" or not, because this would make a BIG difference in interpretation. The uncapitalized "catholic" is defined by Webster's as "1. universal in extent; encompassing all; wide-ranging: catholic tastes and interests. 2. having broad sympathies; broad-minded; liberal. 3. pertaining to the whole Christian body or church." The capitalized "Catholic" of course refers specifically to the Roman Catholic Church or to "the Christian Church that was formerly undivided or to all the modern orthodox churches that have kept the apostolic succession of bishops."

I was profoundly hoping that the Professor had NOT capitalized the word, because I think the uncapitalized definition suits his work far better. However, he DID capitalize it, and as you already mentioned, he is far too particular about words and their meanings to have capitalized it unthinkingly (unless, of course, this is a mistake in transcription from the original letter to the edited and published book?!?).

Assuming the capitalization of the word "Catholic" is correct and fully what the Professor intended, then the quote is still both very interesting and very vague in context! He calls it a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work" and then proceeds to talk about how he very carefully took all religion out of it! What, then, does he mean exactly by "religious and Catholic"?

In other Letters, he states emphatically that the story is set in a "monotheistic" world of "natural theology" and that the Third Age is not "a Christian world." Here are quotes from several Letters:

From Letter #153 to Peter Hastings (one of the really LONG letters):

There are thus no temples or 'churches' or fanes in this 'world' among 'good' peoples. They had little or no 'religion' in the sense of worship. For help they may call on a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative.


From Letter #156 to Robert Murray, S.J.

They [the Men of the West] thus escaped from 'religion' in a pagan sense, into a pure monotheist world, in which all things and beings and powers that might seem worshipful were not to be worshipped, not even the gods (the Valar), being only creatures of the One. And He was immensely remote . . . .

There is only one 'god': God, Eru Iluvatar. There are the first creations, angelic beings, of which those most concerned in the Cosmogony reside (of love and choice) inside the World, as Valar or gods, or governors; and there are incarnate rational creatures, Elves and Men, of similar but different status and natures.


From Letter #165 to Houghton Mifflin Co.

The only criticism that annoyed me was one that it 'contained no religion' (and 'no Women', but that does not matter, and is not true anyway). It is a monotheistic world of 'natural theology'. The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or religious rites and ceremonies is simply part of the historical climate depicted. It will be sufficiently explained if (as now seems likely) the Silmarillion and other legends of the First and Second Ages are published. I am in any case myself a Christian; but the 'Third Age' was not a Christian world.


The question becomes how to reconcile "fundamentally religious and Catholic" with "monotheistic natural theology." I think the Professor means to say that his "good" people -- the Elves and the Men of the West, primarily, but also the Dwarves (who honor "Father Mahal," i.e., the Vala Aule) and the Hobbits who appear to have absorbed some knowledge of the One and the Valar from their interactions with Elves and Men -- have come to conduct themselves in a manner we might regard as "Christian" or "Catholic" through a natural philosophical process that begins with a basic approximation of the first Commandment -- "There is only one God, one Creator -- Eru Ilvatar." From this first premise, or "commandment," from the interactions of the Elves with the Valar, and from the experiences of these folk through the Ages, they have also learned the value of what Crhistians would call the Great Commandment -- "Love your neighbors as yourselves." The rest follows naturally from these two basic premises.

What do you think, Merry, and, of course, anyone else?
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Postby Merry » Wed Sep 17, 2008 5:18 pm

I know I need to give your post more thought, Lindariel, but I have a minute here, and my first thought is that JRRT identifies LOTR as a fundamentally Catholic work--not the Sil or any of his other works, about which he makes no comment that I know of. While the creation myth is in the deep background of LOTR, my own thinking about what makes LOTR Catholic doesn't rest on it.

Your research points out what Tolkien himself says in your first quote: if I may paraphrase, the Catholicism is not explicit, but implicit. He mentions Grace, Our Lady (and the context of the quote, if I remember correctly, is about whether Galadriel draws on Our Lady for some elements of her character), beauty, majesty, simplicity, the story itself, and symbolism.

On the relationship between Catholicism and natural theology, more later!
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Postby Iolanthe » Thu Sep 18, 2008 4:48 pm

Tolkien says that 'the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism'. It is there in all the actions and interactions of the main characters but it is so far absorbed (rather than lying on the surface for all to see, like the Narnia books) that LotR can be read and enjoyed as pure fantasy without readers being wacked on the head by Christian symbolism at every turn (though it's there for those that want to look for it). That speaks a lot to Tolkien's genius - there is a 'rightness' to the story and the trials, tribulations and final triumphs of Frodo, Sam, Aragorn et al that speaks deeply to us whether we look at it through religious glasses or not. We don't need them to be hooked on the story, find it meaningful or even inspiring.

There is no 'religion' in the book whatsoever and yet Tolkien's faith is everywhere, isn't it? It's one of the things that make it so extraordinary.
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Postby Kirill Leonov » Tue Sep 23, 2008 11:38 am

I seem to have started quite a discussion here...
Thanks especially to Lindariel for her long and interesting post.

Well, yes, I think I do get the "removing of religion". Tolkien reduced his Christian (to be more specific: Catholic) faith to the underlying values that really matter and discarded all the rituals like mass, sacraments etc as well as the persons appearing in the Bible, in order to make place for a new mythology. He used what he valued greatly himself about Christianity, which was not the superficial word-perfectness of believing in every single bloody letter of the Bible, but rather what resides in it when you look past the words on the surface, so he calls his works Christian in spirit (and it is a liberal spirit), but theorld he creates is not a Christian world in the sense one would understand it when first hearing the word, because the stuff by which you identify a religion usually, mainly the names and rituals, have been discarded as unnecessary to the underlying values. To me there is no contradiction.
So, if Galadriel is based on Mary in some way (I don't know the quote), she is based on an archetypal figure, an "unearthly" woman who is protector and "mother figure" (and here we may find a Catholic element, if we want to see it thus: Protetants don't worship Mary as some kind of heaven queen, after all), but without the unnecessary elements like angels, the virgin birth thing and whatever.

Iolanthe, even if you see Tolkien as something much deeper than your average fantasy book, LotR still is what created the genre. It still is fantasy. And lack of depth, compared to Tolkien, doesn't mean the genre in itself is bad. Your average book generally lacks such depth, no matter which genre. Tolkien has high quality, is real literature, but still remains fantasy, since there is no contradiction; those are different categories.
There are other fantasy novels with some background and depth, too, by the way - take "Der Weiße Wolf" (The White Wolf) by Käthe Recheis for example, or Michael Ende's "Neverending Story" or "Momo" (the latter is a bit "beside the main genre", but a lot is crossover nowadays, and it matches fantasy most), they all have a message, and so do Astrid Lindgrens fantasy books (mainly thinking of "Brothers Lionheart" and "Mio" there). While not exactly so "message-laden", Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series certainly is rich and deep with its huge variety of cultures and characters (he does not use elves and dwarves, by the way) as well as a detailed background history and mythology. And I find Sergei Lukianenko's Watch series interesting too, in that aspect - it is writen in a very light, colloquial style, but contains certain insights about the world; he clearly put quite a lot of thought into it.

So, since Tolkien pretty much defined the genre (there were earlier fantasy works, but not many), and since he removed all blatant Christianity from it, the genre does not go well with Christianity, for my taste. Legends about knights and similar have that, since they were, if you want to put it like that, "the fantasy of medieval times", when religion was much more part of people's life, and in a much less liberal sense - whereas the actual fantasy genre stems from a time where one can state freely that a virgin birth is not necessary for the creation of a kind of philosophy to make people live together in peace, that hell is just a metaphor noteven contained in the Bible, that what the Bible says about Egypt is, historically speaking, mostly rubbish, and that the consuming of body and blood of Jesus seems to be some archetypal ritual with certain cannibalistic elements (drawing power from the blood... that one's a common legend, actually, if you just look around) of which it would be interesting to know the origin. Back then, I would most likely have been killed for stating that (dependign on exact time and place), and Tolkien would certainly have been accused of heresyand blasphemy, no matter if the underlying values of LotR match the Christian ones or not.
But times have changed (luckily) and religion has been reduced to those values mostly, because many see them as really enough to live with, and I think this is mirrored in the fantasy genre as well, where a Christian world was no longer necessary because there are "alternatives" nowadays that have become eligible.

And now I hope nobody takes offence at that. :)
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