Myths: 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' discussion

All about J.R.R.Tolkien's life, his beliefs and philosophies, and his interests
Merry
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Postby Merry » Wed Jul 22, 2009 4:09 pm

So how are we doing on the Campbell book? I've read about 2/3 of it, but have put it aside for now for some other reading. I think I catch his drift, though!

Of course, there are many connections with Tolkien, although I think Tolkien departs from the monomyth in some significant areas, too. Shall we begin? :D

I was interested in Campbell's idea of a 'navel' in the world, a sacred place where the gods and humans interact. I was reading this as we were reading about Numenor, and that fits the bill well enough, I suppose, although the gods get around more in Tolkien, I guess, and there are many sacred spaces. The Shire is sacred in its own way, as Gandalf is fond of saying. Anyway, it's interesting that Tolkien drowns his navel (to mix metaphors!).
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Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:27 pm

I'm about half-way through my re-read, Merry, and you are right - although there are elements of the monomyth found throughout LotR, Tolkien isn't recreating it or constrained by it. Or even probably aware of it! But many of his characters and their journeys are archetypal because of his deep understanding of old tales. And also, I think, because of his deep held religious beliefs which gives him an understanding of every man's journey through life.

I don't think there is a world navel concept in LotR - a sort of 'World Mountain' appears in the Silmarilion as Tanquetil but it's not really presented as the centre of Middle-earth. But it's more of a psychological meeting point anyway where the divine breaks though into the mundane and where the One becomes Many i.e. where creation (and also, equally, destruction) happens.

On most Hero journeys the Hero is seeking this spot to gain a boon for mankind. This is where Frodo's quest runs counter to the usual Hero story because the boon he is seeking is the loss of something - not gaining something. He is going back to where something was created to unmake it. It's like putting the creative energy in reverse, going to an anti-World Mountain if you like - appropriate because the creator and creation (in this case) is evil.

Aragorn's Hero journey is much more conventional and what he seeks is a validation - a blessing - on his right to the kingship (thereby saving Middle-earth and renewing the land). I think this comes in the passage of the Dimholt where he passes through a sort of underworld and emerges from it to be hailed by the people he passes afterwards as the King of the Dead. It's where he finally unfurls his standard and says 'The hour is come at last'. It's a resurrection of the True King of Gondor and it's so full of old mythological beliefs it's nearly bursting. Passing through an underworld, going underground or going into a cave, or a whale (or monsters' belly) and facing Death before emerging victorious is found in every culture the world over. I know Campbell gives a lot of examples.

In their own way, Frodo and Sam make that journey through Shelob's layer as the precurser to finally entering Mordor. In fact the whole Fellowhip also pass that trial when they go through the Mines of Moria, meet the Balrog and lose Gandalf. When they emerge everything has changed and the Hobbits have to 'grow up'. But I think Moria is Gandalf's personal Underworld Journey where death is faced (invloving real death and rebirth), the Dimholt is Aragorn's and Shelob's lair is Frodo and Sam's.

I'd better stop - I'm in danger of getting carried away and pontificating :lol: .
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Postby Merry » Sun Jul 26, 2009 9:16 pm

Pontificate away, Iolanthe! You have great insights.

I've read that George Lucas consciously used Campbell when writing the Star Wars plots. Before I knew any of this, though, I was always struck by the scene when Luke Skywalker (gotta love the name!) first encounters Yoda. I don't remember much about where that was, but I remember that it was swampy, snaky, and dark. It was easy enough to connect that with the human requirement to encounter some dark things on the way to full personhood. And your list of how our guys do that in LOTR is a good one. I think that Merry and Pippin do that in Fangorn, too.

I think you're right that, in LOTR, Mount Doom is kind of the anti-navel (what a term!) and the whole getting-rid-of-something plot kind of puts Campbell on his ear. But in the whole legendarium, there are many 'navels' in that the divine is/are encountered all over the place. This may be, in part, due to Tolkien's Catholic metaphysics: God is both wholly immanent and wholly transcendent.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Postby Iolanthe » Mon Jul 27, 2009 7:46 pm

I like the idea that Fangorn is Merry and Pippen's equivalent journey. Dark forests and encountering some strange being there are the stuff of fairytales and you don't get much stranger or wiser than Treebeard!

And Gandalf is very much the wise guide who is a spirit in disguise. This archtypal figure is the one that sets the Hero on his journey in nearly all myths (though not always appearing as an old man) and as well as setting both Bilbo and Frodo on their way he's Aragorn's guide and mentor too (and Faramir's). I wonder how much of this came from Tolkien's familiarity with legend and fairytale (there's nearly always a wise old guide) and how much was just a subconcious feeling that it was somehow right that it should be so.
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Postby Merry » Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:04 pm

I wonder if Tolkien himself had a wisdom figure to guide him through his life? Not his father, probably not Father Murphy. Any other candidates?

Reading Campbell also makes me wonder if there is an archetype for the Tolkien hero? Are there qualities that all Tolkien heroes have in common?
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Postby Chrissiejane » Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:23 pm

Merry wrote:
Reading Campbell also makes me wonder if there is an archetype for the Tolkien hero? Are there qualities that all Tolkien heroes have in common?


What a great question, Merry! I know I'm primarily thinking of Aragorn, but he's great template against which to measure other Tolkien characters with hero-potential. From that perspective I would say the JRRT hero needs to be valiant and courageous, but also demonstrates great humility, and empathy with others of all types.
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Postby Lindariel » Thu Aug 06, 2009 4:30 pm

CJ, for me, it is Aragorn's humility and empathy that set him apart from the other Tolkien heroes -- Turin comes immediately to mind, and he certainly LACKED humility and empathy! Indeed, most of the Norse/Viking/Germanic heroes were much more like Turin -- brash, headstrong, even grasping. They were admired for their strength, ferocity, prowess, endurance, and certainly NOT for humility or empathy (given our current readings of The Lay of Sigurd and Gudrun, think of Sigmund, Sigurd/Siegfried, Gunnar, Hogni, Atli, etc., and the shabby treatment both Brynnhild and Gudrun received at their hands) -- they were victors in the realm of "Might Makes Right" rather than "Might for Right," to borrow not so modestly from The Once and Future King version of Arthur and the legend of Camelot.

To my mind, Aragorn is a world apart from the First and Second Age Tolkien heroes -- he is a new thing, a much more modern hero who sets the greater good ahead of his own wants and needs. He is much closer to Arthur and Camelot than to the old Norse predecessors.
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Postby Chrissiejane » Thu Aug 06, 2009 4:52 pm

Agree with your assessment of Turin Lindariel! But that's why, for me, Turin can't pass the quintessential "hero" test. Turin reminds me of Shakespeare's Corialanus. I could never see him as a hero either. Maybe, for me, Turin is a great warrior - although in some mythologies the warriors are also able to demonstrate a self-awareness that Turin lacks.
I like your argument that there's a difference in heroic qualities from the first age and third age.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Thu Aug 06, 2009 7:46 pm

Is there anyone like Aragorn (and Faramir, I guess) in the legendarium? I wonder if the difference could be seen in the light of Tolkien's biography. As a younger writer, influenced primarly by WWI, he writes heroes in the style that this literature is written in: pagan and tragic. As he matures as a writer and as a person, he finds his own vision, influenced by his growing insight about the futility of most wars and their attendant technology and by his Christianity.

P.S. I love The Once and Future King, Lindariel! When I was in grad school, the local Jesuit seminarians, a very talented group, wrote a musical based on the first part of it that they performed on campus and it might have been the most wonderful thing I've ever seen! A Broadway producer was interested in it but, alas, they ran into copyright issues that could not be resolved.
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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.

Merry
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Postby Merry » Thu Aug 13, 2009 1:49 am

I've been reading a discussion in the VW LOTR thread about Fran and Philipa and the contributions they made (and weren't allowed to make!) in the movies, and about whether LOTR was more a boy story than a girl story. This brings me back to Campbell and heroes, etc. I think LOTR is just a human story and that Tolkien was masterful in making it so.

Which brings me back to the question of who were the heroes in Tolkien's own life. I'm just going to put this out there for discussion, but maybe they are women: his mother (who, in his mind, died for her faith), Aunt Jane (Wasn't it in one of the letters that the best thing to happen to a young man is to have an educated maiden aunt? I remind my nephews of this on occasion.), and in the early days, Edith, who was also an orphan, but bore in bravely.

Any other candidates?

Maybe he was impressed enough with women that he modified, at least a bit, the macho heroes of the mythologies he had studied.
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Postby Iolanthe » Thu Aug 13, 2009 3:33 pm

Merry wrote:Is there anyone like Aragorn (and Faramir, I guess) in the legendarium?

How about Beren? Alhough all he did was prompted by love and his desire for Luthien. Hurin is noble, but he's a hero of the old Norse school (though without the character flaws that dogged Turin). Tuor might pass as a more modern, selfless hero - chosen by a god to save Gondolin and leading the survivors away from the conflagration at the end.

Merry wrote:I think LOTR is just a human story and that Tolkien was masterful in making it so.

I so agree! It appeals to boys/girls, men/women, young/old. He really found the universal truths that we all recognise no matter who or what we are.

Merry wrote:Which brings me back to the question of who were the heroes in Tolkien's own life. I'm just going to put this out there for discussion, but maybe they are women: his mother (who, in his mind, died for her faith), Aunt Jane (Wasn't it in one of the letters that the best thing to happen to a young man is to have an educated maiden aunt? I remind my nephews of this on occasion.), and in the early days, Edith, who was also an orphan, but bore in bravely.

Any other candidates?

I would also put up Aunt Jane, but looking for male heros I think his friends from the TCB would also come into that category (as he would also probably have been a hero to them). They led each other by example and inspired each other to strive for higher things and to be the best that they could be.
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Postby Merry » Thu Aug 13, 2009 8:25 pm

Oh, yes, good point! But, you know, the fact that they were dead early on both preserves their heroism perfectly in memory and also deprives Tolkien of their presence in most of his life.

Tolkien had friends, yes, but did he have a wizard?
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Postby Iolanthe » Fri Aug 14, 2009 7:54 pm

CS Lewis :lol: . Just kidding.

Um... Father Francis might have been but then he blotted his status by blighting Tolkien's love life with Edith. How about Fr Robert Murray (who we had the great pleasure of meeting)? I'm trying to remember how much influence their great friendship had on Tolkien but can't find anything to quote. He certainly was a religious mentor to him.
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Postby marbretherese » Fri Aug 14, 2009 9:00 pm

Funnily enough I was going to suggest CSL and Fr Morgan. At certain stages of Tolkien's life anyway!
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Postby Merry » Sat Aug 15, 2009 12:25 am

I haven't read anything about his relationship with Fr. Murray except the letters themselves. I wonder how they met? Wouldn't Tolkien have been somewhat older than he was? He (JRRT) certainly seemed to have a respect for his insights, but I imagine he would have had respect for any of the clergy.

It seems to me, anyway, that Tolkien was CSL's mentor, certainly in matters of faith, maybe in writing.
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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.


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