The Ring: A Thesis by Per Håkan Arvidsson

Discussions of papers inspired by Tolkien's writings.
Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Mar 16, 2007 3:49 pm

I disagree entirely, Per, and I find your denouncement of the scholarship on Tolkien's Catholicism as 'nonsense' to be a little disrespectful. Tolkien said outright in his letters that LOTR was a fundamentally Christian and Catholic work, and explicitly commented on many of those themes. So we do not have to guess about them, since they were not private. I agree that he was a humanitarian in some ways, but he was a humanitarian because he was a Catholic Christian.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Per Håkan Arvidsson
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Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Fri Mar 16, 2007 5:08 pm

Indeed. Never trust the author.

Are you sure he wasn't a Christian because he was a humanitarian?
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Mar 16, 2007 5:12 pm

I guess I don't see why we should trust you more than the author.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Per Håkan Arvidsson
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Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:00 pm

Well, Since I am not the author, I am capable of a higher degree of objectivity.

Not being a Catholic, or indeed adherent to any religious belief system, helps as well.

Studying philosophy, religious history, astronomy, and earth sciences, I have learnt to not believe in anything, and that all we think we know is just theories.

Maybe the veil in front of my eyes is scientific and critical thinking. If so, so be it.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:42 pm

I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, I'm a full professor, and I teach logic at the college level. I am also a Catholic, as you might have guessed. Could it be that your assertion that one cannot be a critical thinker and a religious person is the result of bias? Tolkien himself was both.

"All we think we know is just theories" is a theory as well, isn't it? So the idea is self-referentially inconsistent.

Your world view is almost diametrically opposed to Tolkien's. I find it interesting, then, that you are so involved in his writings. I don't think that someone has to be religious himself or herself to find meaning in Tolkien. But to deny that Tolkien's faith is an important part of his works is to ignore a lot of important evidence.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Per Håkan Arvidsson
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Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Fri Mar 16, 2007 11:54 pm

Well, yes, religious beliefs necessarily render one unable to look at the world without that filter. You can only remove that filter by disbelief. I'm sure you are familiar with Einstein's problem. When he felt that his theories seemed to contradict the existence of God (as he saw it) he didn't believe his own theories.

Tolkien, being a scholar himself, managed in my opinion to create a fictional world that is not tainted by his religious beliefs, unlike for instance C.S. Lewis, who was converted to Catholicism by Tolkien myself, or so I seem to remember.

All theories are just more or less probable. And yes, I would say that it is possible that I am completely wrong, and that one cannot study Tolkien without understanding and comparing with Catholicism.

However, since I find that Tolkien's ME Works can be explained without involving catholicism, I find no use for it.

Ultimately, meaning is produced when you read. It is therefore extremely important to keep as unbiased as possible. I trust rather a non-religious reader who do not know anything about Tolkien, than a religious scholar (any denomination) with an intimate knowledge of Tolkien and his life.

I am not saying that religious people can not be critical thinkers, but ultimately they will have to choose, like Einstein, cause no religion makes sense, which is why they need faith.

Tolkien's world makes sense and therefore explains itself. Please remember that his mythology is supposed to pre-date everything. If you find Catholic ideas in Tolkien's writings, it is mythologically because the religions of our world has remnants of the beliefs found in Middle-earth.

Most old religions will forever be seen through the filters of later religions. Tolkien's sources for inspiration were mostly filtered, and therefore it was difficult for him to weed out Christianity and make his work about something much more fundamental than God, i.e. Chaos/Order.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Sat Mar 17, 2007 5:42 am

C. S. Lewis was not a Catholic; he was an Anglican. You might be remembering that Tolkien was influential in CSL's conversion to Christianity.

Since you choose not to be 'tainted' by religion, you may not recognize it when it is present. Tolkien's understanding is that his religious beliefs are suffused through LOTR, and dozens of other scholars have found that it cannot be understood without reference to Tolkien's faith.

For our other members who do choose to acknowledge that Tolkien might have had some insight into his own works, I will quote the famous passage from Letter 172:

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.


In J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tom Shippey writes, "The Lord of the Rings is certainly superficially [emphasis mine] neither Catholic nor religious, nor Christian." He then spends much of the chapter showing how a deeper reading reveals these themes. Shippey is widely acknowledged to be one of the best, if not the best, authority on Tolkien, and his works routinely acknowledge the importance of the Christian/Catholic themes. One of the most interesting, in my view, is the importance of the dates of December 25 and March 25 in both the LOTR and the Church calendar.

And certainly Tolkien reveals his thoughts on the matter in his essay "On Fairy-Stories". It is clear that his idea, for example, of eucatastrophe is intimately related to his Christian belief.

I can now see, Per, why you would not wish to view these kinds of sources as trustworthy. But serious scholarship relies on sources such as these in addition to primary sources. I understand that your primary worldview is scientific, but in the humanities, these kinds of sources are understood to be evidence.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

librislove
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Postby librislove » Sun Mar 18, 2007 4:09 am

Perhaps, Per, you evaluate Tolkien's meaning to you in terms of your wolrldview, which is an entirely appropriate way to read a work of literature and glean its meaning for you own life. But when you venture into scholarship, you must go outside your worldview into that of your primary source, and you must be willing to read and to study the important secondary sources with an open mind. Scholarship requires evidence and meaning beyond that which is created by your own experience. To dismiss what is there or what might be there just because you do not believe that it is a valid way to interpret the material is not scholarship, but comes as perilously close to ideology or "Faith" as you seem to think those scholars who see a Christian or Catholic influence in Tolkien have ventured. Your work has much merit, and adds to what we know about Tolkien's work--but you are part of a community of scholars whose work you cannot ignore because their worldviews make no sense to you. Believe what you wish--none here would have it otherwise--but understand that scholarship is more than filtering source material through your own lens. If you wish Tolkien to inform your worldview and help you see life in your own manner, by all means use his work that way.. It is a valid use for any literature. But that is not Tolkien scholarship--in which the focus must be on the source. Your paper contains the seeds of some good true scholarship--please do not limit yourself. And do not imply that those of faith are incapable of scholarship not filtered through the lens of their belief, or that they must make a choice between faith and scholarship. Since none of us can ultimately be sure of the nature of reality--all of what we choose to use to make our world sensible is a faith statement of some kind, whether you call it rationality, science, religion, or something else entirely. No one is free of bias, Per. But we must always try to be--to let the primary sources we study speak with their own voices.
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Many live who deserve death; some die who deserve life--can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be so quick to deal out death in judgment. Even the wisest cannot see all ends.

Per Håkan Arvidsson
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Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Thu Mar 29, 2007 5:08 pm

I have read Shippey, and I of course disagree with him in most things, and as you understand, Tolkien's own words on the subject carry little weight with me.

I have read all sources I could get my hands on, because it is important to know all, but I must draw the line somewhere when it comes to what is to be considered reliable sources. By drawing this line as close to Tolkien's Works as possible, I believe my work can be as objective as possible.

For this particular paper I was naturally more of a novice, and I had not delved nearly as deep into Tolkien's Works and the literature around it.

This paper is more a criticism of David Day's Book, than anything else. I hope that my second paper will help you understand my approach better.
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Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Fri Mar 30, 2007 4:31 pm

Thanks for clarifying that, Per. But please don't draw that line too close to Tolkien's works, though, and shut out some very good and enlightening stuff.

Personally I worship the ground Shippey walks on, he has openend up so many interesting ideas for me. And these have led me down my own pathways. Do you really disagree with most of what he says? And if you do, are there any other Tolkien scholars and commentators that you do feel an affinity with?
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Per Håkan Arvidsson
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Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Mon Apr 23, 2007 7:21 pm

Affinity may be too strong a word.

I find that many scholars and readers have interesting ideas, but as you have understood by now, I tend to think rather differently than most. It may make me unpopular at times, but, in my opinion, people in general care too much about aligning themselves with other people's views. It is important to try to understand how other people think, but without losing oneself in the process. Evolve, don't convert...
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