Tolkien Biographies and Biographers

All about J.R.R.Tolkien's life, his beliefs and philosophies, and his interests
Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Sep 03, 2007 3:00 pm

I think all of that's quite plausible, marbretherese. And I do think that Garth has made a great argument that WWI was a major influence on the books and, of course, on Tolkien. I'm just wondering about Tolkien's view on all the plans and promises of the TCBS, especially their sort of 'we're going to do something great and save the world with it' exuberance. I think that might have died with his friends, to be replaced with a more mature desire simply to express his aesthetic, scholarly, religious and moral values--many of which he shared with TCBS--even though he fully expected that no one would read them.
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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.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Mon Sep 03, 2007 7:35 pm

Thanks for sorting out where that Smith quote first appears in the book, mabreterese!

I think 'cleanliness' could very well have been a 'buzz' word between the TCBS, encapsulating many things important to them.

Merry wrote:I'm just wondering about Tolkien's view on all the plans and promises of the TCBS, especially their sort of 'we're going to do something great and save the world with it' exuberance. I think that might have died with his friends, to be replaced with a more mature desire simply to express his aesthetic, scholarly, religious and moral values--many of which he shared with TCBS--even though he fully expected that no one would read them.

I think that youthful fire to change the world must have faded as it nearly always does when reality, family concerns and real work to earn money takes over but I can't imagine it left completely. He must have felt some obligation to live up to the dreams and expectations of his friends even if it wasn't always expressed. Maybe it lived in the way he always carried on working on his mythology all through his life no matter what else intruded.

I don't think he wrote LotR seriously believing it would change the world but everything the TCBS valued is there. But in a way it has changed the world for many individual readers. It shines a bright light on old truths and values, teaches courage and perseverance against the odds ...it must have changed a lot of people. Who knows how much good influence it's had? Given how many millions have read it and valued it maybe he has fulfilled the TCBS dream without even meaning or expecting to.

I'm beginning to think that Tolkien's mature thoughts about the TCBS would have been a good question for Priscilla at last year's Tolkien Conference if only we'd though of it! I think the memories must have been very painful and perhaps he conciously put them aside as much as possible.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:06 am

Yes, that would have been a good question. I wonder, though, how aware of those things she would have been. For example, we seemed to be more knowledgeable about the letters than she was. I wonder if she had read Garth's book.

I think we can imagine Tolkien struggling all his life to reconcile his high ideals with the reality of things. (I am sympathetic, since I have the same struggles!) He never wrote about LOTR as if the high ideals part was fantasy. He wrote that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

I want to say that LOTR has changed the world, too. It has changed me--I take courage, for example, more seriously than I might have otherwise. But other than the actions of individuals, how has it changed the world? I don't think Tolkien would have been satisfied at having his legacy be the introduction of fantasy as a genre.
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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.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Tue Sep 04, 2007 10:50 am

I think you could be right about Priscilla and I'm thinking that Tolkien kept a lot of his thoughts about those early days to himself as those youthful friendships were so bound up with terrible events. But I do think they are there indirectly all through LotR.

Merry wrote:But other than the actions of individuals, how has it changed the world? I don't think Tolkien would have been satisfied at having his legacy be the introduction of fantasy as a genre.

I wonder if he said anything about the emergent fantasy genre? It certainly is a legacy and one that has gone a long way from Tolkien's idea of explaining a forgotten past.

I'll have to think about whether LotR has changed the world in other ways :-k. I'd like to think it has....
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marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:57 pm

Merry wrote: I want to say that LOTR has changed the world, too. It has changed me--I take courage, for example, more seriously than I might have otherwise. But other than the actions of individuals, how has it changed the world?


But isn't that how the world is changed? one individual at a time?

something to do with the theory of the hundredth monkey, I think!
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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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Merry
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Postby Merry » Tue Sep 04, 2007 5:22 pm

I think that there are movements that are more than the sum of their parts, and that people accomplish exponentially more in groups than as individuals, for good or for evil. Does this make any sense? Is their a Tolkien movement (outside of the new fantasy genre, of which I'm not sure Tolkien would have quite approved)?
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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.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:03 pm

'Is there a Tolkien movement?' - mmmm. Now you mention it I wonder why there isn't? All Tolkien groups focus on him and his books, playing around in Middle-earth whenever possible, going to Moots (like me next week :lol: ) and occasionally dressing up. (I won't be dressing up :P )

I think the reason is that Tolkien's work can only speak to an individuals heart. All the good in his works is done by individuals with their own courage and conviction. Even friendships and alliances are based on that. For a movement there has to be some general ideal that everyone is subscribing to and Tolkien - I think - hated movements. Even if people all recognise the same good and want the same thing in his books, it's individual journeys that are highlighted. What keeps them together is a Truth, not an idea and movements tend to be all about ideas and often 'one-size fits all' ideas.

This is getting quite philosophical. What a pity Tolkien can't share his thoughts here!
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Wed Sep 05, 2007 1:51 am

Philosophical--yeah! :wink: I'm certainly enjoying it!

I think you're right that Tolkien was skeptical about 'movements'--he saw their potential, I would guess, for leading astray. But I don't think he was an individualist, either. A communitarian, maybe?

By the way, Iolanthe, what's the difference between a Truth and an idea? And what Truth do you think kept the Fellowship together?
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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.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Wed Sep 05, 2007 2:34 pm

I like the idea of Tolkien as a communitarian. A communitarian who values the individual maybe!

Now onto your rather difficult question.... :lol:

I think the truth that kept the Fellowhip together was simply that evil is evil and should be vanquished wherever possible and at whatever cost, but not by using the tools of the ememy. There is still room for forgiveness (Gollum and Saruman) even if it is rejected and there are shades of grey within characters, but Tolkien has polarised good and evil in that the true enemy is pure evil and has to be destroyed. The polarity of good and evil is a universal truth beyond the greys of this world even if men, elves and dwarves may lean one way or another and change alliegences.

By ideas I meant that the movements that ideas create may be good or bad because ideas can be based on truth or lies (or even just ignorance) and still be capable of mobilizing huge numbers of people. Modernisation is an idea - it can be good or bad - but it's not a universal truth that all modernisation is a good thing and it gets a good bashing in Lotr with Saruman and his modern war. Communism is an idea with good intentions based on some truths but once it became a movement it turned into a steamroller. Some ideas presented as 'truths' clash. You either went with the movement's idea of 'truth' or perished. The utopian ideal sounds like a good idea on the surface but is it a truth that Utopia would be a good thing for everybody?

Perhaps - in a nutshell - I see Truth as coming from God (absolute and perfect) and ideas coming from man (changeable and imperfect) and I think the Fellowship was battling for a Truth not an Idea. I think this is either a deliberate or maybe subconcious effort on Tolkien's part to contrast the battle against Sauron with the Great War. I'm not suggesting he's saying that the Great War was totally wrong or totally useless. Garth has quite a lot to say about the modern idea of that war as meaninlgess waste put forward by Sassoon, Graves and Owen, as opposed to Tolkien's post WW1 writing (and the feelings of a lot of soldiers that were in it). I think though, that he was trying to shine a spotlight on meaning in great sacrifice in a mythology where the waters were less muddy. Garth says that Tolkien looked at the great themes whereas the war poets only looked at the details. Different realities I suppose.

Which brings us neatly back to Garth and his wonderful book!
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marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Wed Sep 05, 2007 4:20 pm

Iolanthe wrote: Which brings us neatly back to Garth and his wonderful book!


I'm going to step away from Garth again for a moment to post this, which touches on the themes under discussion. I found it in Joseph Pearce's Tolkien Man & Myth, where he is quoting Charles Moseley's JRR Tolkien:

Neither propaganda or allegory, at its root lies the Christian model of a world loved into being by a Creator, whose creatures have the free will to turn away from the harmony of that love to seek their own will and desires, rather than seeking to give themselves in love to others. This world is one of cause and consequence, where everything matters, however seemingly insignificant: action plucks on other actions, and the end of this self-love is the reduction of freedom, the imprisonment in the self, and the inability to give or receive love that is the only thing desired . . . Christianity sees the universe as a place of struggle between good and evil where individuals are crucial.


This is Moseley talking, of course, not Tolkien.

Apologies for the digression!
0 x
"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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Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Sep 07, 2007 3:07 pm

Iolanthe, I can see now why you capitalized 'Truth' and not 'ideas'. Tolkien certainly believed in Truth (as I do!). There are certain moral Truths, for example, that come through clearly in LOTR. One of my favorites is Aragorn's rule when they are in Fangorn and Gimli, I think, wants to shoot the person they think is Saruman before he can speak to put a curse on them. Aragorn says something like, we cannot shoot an old man unawares, no matter how frightened we are. This is a great Truth! And Aragorn did not just apply it to himself as an individual, but thought that it applied to Gimli and Legolas, and I think to all people. If Aragorn alone followed that Truth, the world would still be a pretty lawless and awful place.

This is what I mean when I question your statements, Iolanthe and marbretherese, that it is all about the individual. Certainly the duty to do the right thing falls on every individual, even if no one else does it. But in LOTR, at least, Tolkien gives the good guys a community. None of them would have gotten very far without it.
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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.

Iolanthe
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Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Fri Sep 07, 2007 3:52 pm

I'm in agreement really - it is a community. A community of individuals bonded together by a Truth (Good v. Evil), but not a movement led by an idea :lol: .

I think that's why there are Tolkien communities based on fellowship (shared understanding of why the books mean something and, of course, fun) but no Tolkien 'world changing' movement.

I like the Moseley quote marbreterese has found:

Christianity sees the universe as a place of struggle between good and evil where individuals are crucial.


That applies so well to LotR.


I think I've explained myself :dizzy:????
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
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Postby Merry » Sat Sep 08, 2007 1:32 am

Cool emoticon!

Christianity also sees the world as a place where community is crucial. But I don't really think we are in disagreement on this.

Nice discussion!
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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.

marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Sat Sep 08, 2007 3:17 pm

I've found another excellent quote in Joseph Pearce's book which touches on this question of community. This time Pearce is quoting Charles A. Coulombe:

The concept of society as an organic whole, without class conflict, with a communal structure, is one that has characterized Catholic social thought since the Roman Empire. In many ways the Shire expresses perfectly the economic and political ideals of the Church, as expressed by Leo XII in Rerum novarum, and Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno. Traditional authority [the Thain], limited except in times of crisis; popular representation [the Mayor of Michel Delving], likewise limited; subsidiarity; and above all, minimal organisation and conflict. It is the sort of society envisioned by Distributists Belloc and Chesterton in Britain, by Salazar in Portugal, by the framers of the Irish constitution, by Dollfuss in Austria and by Smetona in Lithuania. However far short or close these dwellers in the real world came to their goal, the fact remains that it is something very close to the Shire they had in mind.


To me, the words limited and minimal are crucial. For myself, as an individual I am happy to contribute to and share in my community - and indeed in the Tolkien community, both on these forums and elsewhere. But I think I would feel uncomfortable if I were part of a movement.

I genuinely think that LOTR has the ability to change the lives of those who read it with an open mind and heart, no matter what their background.
0 x
"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."


http://www.marbretherese.com
http://marbretherese.blogspot.com/

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Sat Sep 08, 2007 5:23 pm

That's a very apt quote you've found there! Maybe, in the absence of a Tolkien movement (now we've looked at why there isn't one) we should start a Shire commune!
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
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