Mallorn: Gandalf as Torturer

Discussions of papers inspired by Tolkien's writings.
Riv Res
Manwë
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Mallorn: Gandalf as Torturer

Post by Riv Res » Wed Sep 28, 2005 2:40 am

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Becky Carter-Hitchin



Essay From The Tolkien Society Journal: The Mallorn
"Gandalf as Torturer"



There are thousands of essays and critiques of Tolkien's writings and many are worth discussing. Let's start with one from The Tolkien Society's Mallorn. I have scanned the essay. Give it a look and let us hear what you think.

This first essay you may find a little controversial and so I will remind you to please remember the House Rules.

Click on the scan to enlarge and read.

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A very gutsy piece of writing. Let the conversation begin. :D

Merry
Varda
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Post by Merry » Wed Sep 28, 2005 11:06 pm

Well! I thought that was great! Thanks, RR! And it raised some important questions. I think that Tolkien has a great moral vision, which is one of the reasons why so many are drawn to his writings. So it would be disturbing indeed if this author's charges are true.

But I think he has made a couple of strategic errors. I'll describe one:

Are we so sure that the only interpretation of Gandalf's interrogation of Gollum is that it was torture? As we know from recent world events, and as this author points out, the definition of torture is a bit hard to pin down. But let's look at the relevant passage again:
. . . in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, bit by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling.
Now with most people being questioned, 'wrung the story out of him', and 'bit by bit', and all the snivelling and snarling does sound torturous. But I think we need to remember that every conversation with Gollum was like this. He was never straightforward, and the truth, if it emerged at all, emerged only obliquely and piecemeal. So this description does not necessarily support the allegation of torture.

Does Gandalf calling himself 'harsh' necessarily mean torture? Maybe he yelled! Maybe he got grumpy. I imagine he would have thought that some of his retorts to poor Pippin were harsh.

I submit to you that the whole allegation of torture relies on the line about 'I put the fear of fire on him'. I have no idea what this means. It sounds like it might be something to do with his Ring of Fire, though, doesn't it? But I have to say that I don't believe that Gandalf would threaten to burn Gollum, even if it were an empty threat. It is only three or four pages later that Gandalf speaks his memorable invocation to pity for Gollum. Tolkien was too smart a man to invite the judgment of hypocricy on Gandalf.

Remember that at this time, Gollum had lived underground for so long that he no longer enjoyed sunlight or moonlight. Could the 'fear of fire' have something to do with light rather than burning?

In any case, Tolkien abides by the principle all through his works that the ends do not justify the means. I don't even think that he would judge that torture in the 'doomsday' scenario was morally right. This is such a strong theme that I think we have to imagine that Gandalf would not have done anything that could have been called torture in any meaningful sense.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it! What say you?
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.

Varda
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Post by Varda » Thu Sep 29, 2005 2:42 am

Sometimes I think the 'purists' at the Tolkien Society get a litte carried away... :roll: First off, I love Tolkien for the wonderful history he has created of a place I wish existed...Middle-earth and all the inhabitants in it. BUT........it is just that, a wonderful story. Trying to compare events that happened in his stories to current ones is :?: . LoTR is 50 years old for heavens sakes, how can you compare??? :o
O Elbereth! Gilthomiel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

Riv Res
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Post by Riv Res » Thu Sep 29, 2005 3:40 am

Varda wrote:Sometimes I think the 'purists' at the Tolkien Society get a litte carried away... :roll: First off, I love Tolkien for the wonderful history he has created of a place I wish existed...Middle-earth and all the inhabitants in it. BUT........it is just that, a wonderful story. Trying to compare events that happened in his stories to current ones is :?: . LoTR is 50 years old for heavens sakes, how can you compare??? :o
Varda, I think that you and Merry (and I) are in the same camp on this piece. I do disagree with his premise and thought process as well.

Although this article is contained in a Tolkien Society journal, what makes you think that the author is a purist? I would think that this kind of analysis would be the last thing that would come from a Tolkien purist mind. Thoughts?

Also, I think you are correct that it is probably a futile undertaking in that it tries to draw analogies between a work of fiction that takes place in the ancient past and attempts to line it up with modern day historical trends. So why do you suppose the author did this? What was his point?

In all honesty, this is the first thing I have read from the society that covers this type of subject matter. I don't think it demeans the Professor's work, but I agree that it is pretty far fetched and not based on a clear thought pattern. Is this guy just trying to get a rise out of us, or is there something even remotely credible about his essay?

Thoughts?

marbretherese
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Post by marbretherese » Thu Sep 29, 2005 12:38 pm

Riv Res wrote: In all honesty, this is the first thing I have read from the society that covers this type of subject matter. I don't think it demeans the Professor's work, but I agree that it is pretty far fetched and not based on a clear thought pattern. Is this guy just trying to get a rise out of us, or is there something even remotely credible about his essay?
I think this guy is just trying to be clever and controversial, and I agree totally with the points made already. He has interpreted the text as implying torture so he can find an angle for his article!

Too often these days, 'fashionable' commentators try to judge history by current standards. There's also a tendency to paint people as either 'good' or 'bad', when most individuals (being human) are a complex mixture of both.

To appy such judgements to a work of fiction set in a fictional past and involving fantasy characters is pointless, and ultimately a waste of the reader's time!
"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/

Merry
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Post by Merry » Thu Sep 29, 2005 4:56 pm

I disagree! (in a friendly and respectful manner, of course!) :D

I think Tolkien was trying to embody universal values in LOTR, values for all times and places, values for real life and not just fiction. Pity was one of those values. (There's some great stuff about this in Tolkien's letters, which I don't have with me at the moment--maybe later.) I think he is right about this. If we get an insight about the importance of pity through reading a work of fiction, and apply it to real life, so much the better. Otherwise, fiction is just mindless entertainment and loses its importance.

I agree with you that this guy is trying to stir the pot, and I don't think it's a great argument, as I said above. But I don't find the whole effort pointless. He's trying to get us to think about something important, whether you agree with him or not.
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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Post by marbretherese » Fri Sep 30, 2005 12:25 am

Merry wrote: He's trying to get us to think about something important, whether you agree with him or not.
You're right, Merry - the point he's trying to make is extremely important - but I found his case so flawed that for me the whole exercise did become pointless. :( I'm sure he could have put his argument in a much better way.
Merry wrote: I think Tolkien was trying to embody universal values in LOTR, values for all times and places, values for real life and not just fiction.
The idea of judging history (including fantasy history where the intention is, as you say, to embody universal values) by today's standards is a bit of a 'thing' of mine (did anyone guess? :roll: ). That article set me off, rather . . .
"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/

Riv Res
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Post by Riv Res » Fri Sep 30, 2005 2:50 am

I honestly think we have flogged this poor guy to death. Let's go talk about Meriadoc Brandybuck. :D

Follow me...

http://middle-earth-journeys.com/forums ... =1093#1093

Merry
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Post by Merry » Fri Sep 30, 2005 2:50 pm

Riv Res, with your permission, I'd like to kick the dead horse one more time! :shock: (Sorry for the violent metaphor!)

This author also suggests that Aragorn's capture of Gollum for interrogation was an unlawful seizure of an innocent and unsuspecting citizen. Now I know that we don't take kindly here to any criticism of our favorite Ranger, but is there a more rational defense against this claim?

I promise I will read the article about Merry, too!
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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Post by marbretherese » Fri Sep 30, 2005 3:53 pm

Merry wrote: Now I know that we don't take kindly here to any criticism of our favorite Ranger, but is there a more rational defense against this claim?
That probably depends on what the role of a Ranger is supposed to be, and I don't have any Tolkien reading material to hand at present to check that out. Also I guess we have to establish what the writer means by unlawful. I doubt the Geneva convention was in force in Middle Earth during Aragorn's time!
"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/

Riv Res
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Joined: Fri Jun 24, 2005 6:35 am
Location: Walking the fields of the Pelennor with the King

Post by Riv Res » Fri Sep 30, 2005 3:59 pm

Merry, be it our favorite Ranger or not, the part I take exception to is...innocent and unsuspecting citizen. If we are going to make modern day analogies, it would be saying that we should not detain and interrogate a known murderer. After all, Smeagol did kill Deagol to get the Ring. He would be a prime suspect in this day and age.

Nope... innocent and unsuspecting citizen...does not fly with me.

BTW...we can talk about this paper as long as their is interest...even though we don't like the premise. :wink: :D
Last edited by Riv Res on Fri Sep 30, 2005 8:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Merry
Varda
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Post by Merry » Fri Sep 30, 2005 8:21 pm

Good!

I also remember reading something in that chapter about people in the neighborhood reporting some unknown terror that stole babies out of cribs at night, etc., after Gollum was released from Mordor. (Sorry--away from my books again.) But I don't remember where it was that Aragorn captured Gollum, or whether there was any law enforcement there or not.
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.

Riv Res
Manwë
Posts: 2111
Joined: Fri Jun 24, 2005 6:35 am
Location: Walking the fields of the Pelennor with the King

Post by Riv Res » Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:26 pm

Merry, I am about to run out and see Viggo's new movie but will return this evening with some definite thoughts on your latest comments. :wink: :D

Varda
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Post by Varda » Sun Oct 02, 2005 1:21 am

As soon as the Tolkien Society corrects the mess up with my membership and sends me Mallorn, ( which is very overdue) I can not read the scan ( when I click on it, it enlarges and then minimizes so I can't read it).
Suffice to say, I still feel it is absurd to place 20th century morals/laws on a fantasy story... :shock:
O Elbereth! Gilthomiel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

Riv Res
Manwë
Posts: 2111
Joined: Fri Jun 24, 2005 6:35 am
Location: Walking the fields of the Pelennor with the King

Post by Riv Res » Sun Oct 02, 2005 3:37 am

Varda wrote: I can not read the scan ( when I click on it, it enlarges and then minimizes so I can't read it).
Varda, when the enlargement minimizes the scan, simply place your cursor arrow on the bottom right hand corner of the minimized scan and an enlargement arrow will appear. Click on that enlargement arrow and you computer will enlarge the scan so you can read it.

Merry, I am still trying to find the passages you have mentioned and have not been successful yet...but I do remember them and am determined to find them. :wink: I think it makes a strong case for both Aragorn's and Gandalf's actions. Gollum is most certainly no innocent bystander.

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