Amazon series:reactions and thoughts (Spoiler alert!)

Odola

Well-Known Member
But we are talking about fate and free will. My point is that it is very Tolkienian to fold free will into providence and to show that our choices matter. This is not about individuality vs communality. Arda is a pre-Christian monotheistic world, not a pagan one.
Still the fate concept in Tolkien's pre-TLOTR stories is the pagan one. And 2nd Age is still pre-TLOTR.

Fate has strongly communal aspect.

The bloodline, order of birth and the function derived from it is a social role assigned to a person in the community based on the "accident of birth" alone , not on any individual inclinations or personal predispositions. That is why the old rank system has been dismantled in our own societies - because we no longer believe in fate but only in choices. That was not yet so in the societies that Tolkien describes.
(It even has not yet been so in our own societies like 200 years ago - at least to that extend that it is cosidered now.)

We see that in RoP Nori struggling with her fate of being born one of the Harfoots with the social role and expectations assigned to it and her personal inclination to see the bigger world outside. But to which "bigger fate" she is called here when she does leave with the Stranger is not yet clear - as such it is not yet recgnisable if her decission was good or bad in this story. In Tolkien it could go either way.
 
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Ilana Mushin

Active Member
Still the fate concept in Tolkien's pre-TLOTR stories is the pagan one. And 2nd Age is still pre-TLOTR.
Fate has strongly communal aspect.
The bloodline, order of birth and the function derived from it is a social role assigned to a person in the comunity based on the "accident of birth" alone , not on any individual inclinations or personal predispositions. That is why the old rank system has been dismantled in our own societies - because we no longer believe in fate but only in choices. That was not yet so in the societies that Tolkien describes.
(It even has not yet been so in our own societies like 200 years ago - at least to that extend that it is cosidered now.)
I have a feeling that we are using the term ‘fate’ in different ways here. I’m not talking about social structures.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I have a feeling that we are using the term ‘fate’ in different ways here. I’m not talking about social structures.
But those are big part of fate in Tolkien too. The mere fact of belonging to a certain family or bloodline (which are social constructs based on communally assumed and socially interpreted biology) is a very big basis for Tolkien's fate to work on.
We actually see this concept being made fun of in the "Halbrand as King of the Southland's" storyline in RoP - a clearly modern nudge at an ancient concept.
 
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Ilana Mushin

Active Member
But those are big part of fate in Tolkien too. The mere fact of belonging to a certain family or bloodline (which are social constructs based on communally assumed and socially interpreted biology) is a very big basis for Tolkien's fate to work on.
But that is not ‘providence’ in the sense I’m talking about. I’m talking about fate in the sense that Gandalf says Bilbo was ‘meant’ to find the ring, but his choices meant that he (Bilbo) was not as impacted by the Ring because of his compassion for Gollum, or Turin’s failure to trully become master of his fate because of his choices, or how ‘chance’ meant that Angrist snaps so that Beren can’t rescue all three Silmarils. i see this theme very strongly articulated in RoP season 1, and that is very Tolkienian. That’s all I’m trying to argue here.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
But that is not ‘providence’ in the sense I’m talking about. I’m talking about fate in the sense that Gandalf says Bilbo was ‘meant’ to find the ring, but his choices meant that he (Bilbo) was not as impacted by the Ring because of his compassion for Gollum, or Turin’s failure to trully become master of his fate because of his choices, or how ‘chance’ meant that Angrist snaps so that Beren can’t rescue all three Silmarils. i see this theme very strongly articulated in RoP season 1, and that is very Tolkienian. That’s all I’m trying to argue here.
Providence - even more than humans - can act outside of the Song. Fate is one's place and role in the Song.
Bilbo's findng the ring was the former kind, while Turin and Angrist were part of the latter.
It was not Bilbo' choice to find the ring, but his choices after finding it modified how his role in the Song after he has found it has played out.
As I said, the effect of Nori's choices is yet to be seen. And the Stanger is a Maia - so he cannot play around with his own fate in a way that Nori as a mortal is able to pull off.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Interesting cosmological discussion.I feel in no way cabable to argue deep-law issues such as fate, predestination or free will, but i enjoy reading both your statements. I'd be interested to hear more about the contrast and similarities between jewish and catholic philosophy being visible in this shows context too...
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Interesting cosmological discussion.I feel in no way cabable to argue deep-law issues such as fate, predestination or free will, but i enjoy reading both your statements. I'd be interested to hear more about the contrast and similarities between jewish and catholic philosophy being visible in this shows context too...
Not too much visible as yet, as many stories have been merely sketched out. But there can be more next seasons.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
I don’t recall where in Tolkien that a distinction in types of fate/predestination is drawn between ‘in the Song’ and ‘out of the Song’ in the way that Odola has described. Do you have a source for that?

I’m using the terms ‘providence’ and ‘fate’ fairly interchangably as a nod to the ‘hand of God’ (directly or mediated through the Valar) influencing the theatre of Middle-earth action - so sorry if I have been flipping between terms. Tolkien talks about things ‘meaning’ to happen (like Bilbo putting his hand out in the dark and finding the Ring), and about the doom of people/objects (so it is Beren’s doom to be able to enter Doriath and the doom of the second and third Silmarils to remain in Morgoth’s crown (hence Angrist breaking). I understand these as essentially the same thing.

What I find really neat about Tolkien is that he finds a way to include this level of divine planning at the same time allowing his protagonists freedom to choose their actions and go ‘off script’, as it were. Iluvatar’s point to Melkor as I understand it is that even when choices are evil and appear to counter the designs of Iluvatar, that in the end the story will result in more glory and more wonder, enhancing the design rather than ruining it. So going ‘off script’ allows for variations to develop (in the musical sense) that don’t ultimately disrupt the theme but rather enhance it. For the same reason, Iluvatar gives his children free will. My take on the Elves vs Humans in this respect is that Elves are usually content to work directly with the themes to make them more beautiful (but see Noldor for exceptions), while humans are not satisfied with this and seek variations. Both of these contribute to Iluvatar’s design.

The trick for protagonists in Tolkien’s stories is to maintain their estel that everything WILL contribute to the ultimate design. This is what I think RoP leans into very heavily in this season, setting up from the start that there is a design (Galadriel’s conversation with Halbrand in Ep4 and with Theo in ep7, there is one God (Adar and Sauron both mention ’the One‘) and there are Valar who fashioned the world (Dwarves and Aulë, Arondir‘s allusion to Yavanna) and watch over it (Miriel’s ‘tears of the Valar’ speech). We are given the concept of ‘high hope’ by Bronwyn. Yet juxtaposed with all of this are the actual free choices that the protagonists make and their consequences. We are now as viewers in a good position to understand the kind of world that Arda is - important especially for the casual viewer who is not a Tolkien nerd.

And we also see in Season 1 the seeds planted for people with good intentions to end up becoming evil - especially where the means start justifying the ends. The very first line of Ep 1 ‘Nothing is evil in the beginning’ primes us for this as a major part of the story. This is why I think it is not a bad idea to start the story of Sauron with him in a more ‘repentant’ frame of mind. He needs somewhere to move from. He is still the same kind of ‘means justifies the ends’ kinda guy so that was never going to go well. Pharazon is also shown to be somewhere down the path. Theo looks like he could go there eventually. The Stranger recognises in the end that he does not have to choose that path.

To me Galadriel is the most interesting treatment of this. I know many do not agree with me, but I found her compelling as a character in this Season. We see in Galadriel someone who moved dangerously close to becoming evil but then stepped back. This I think is because she was able to tap into her more humble side - she recognises that she is part of a larger plan that she doesn’t understand (conversation with Theo in ep7, and that she just has to keep swimming (conversation with Elrond in ep8 - she was acting on that impulse when she jumped off the boat, as she relates to Elrond, so it was there all along. Throughout her obsessive driven actions in this Season, we also see a number of acts of compassion and kindness from Galadriel. Her interactions with Halbrand on the Raft show her kindness to strangers, she throws her cloak over the Elf in the snow in Ep1 when she sees the suffering (after pushing them to the limit), she and Elrond have a deep friendship (started from an act of kindness), and she speaks so lovingly of Celeborn as she recalls a happier time in her life. We see her helping to train the young Numenoreans in a ‘fun’ way. That’s all part of Galadriel’s character too, and a big reason why she was able to step back from the darkness once she ‘touched’ it.

In the case of Nori and the Stranger. Nori tells the stranger that he is good because he helps. This is a choice the Stranger makes. He could have easily chosen to give in to his fear and confusion and to destroy the Harfoots - but he doesn’t. Nori has a sense that she is ‘meant‘ to help the Stranger, but she could also have given in to fear and chosen to follow Poppy’s advice and give him food and send him off. This is completely consistent with Tolkien in my view and grapples with the themes as I’ve described above.

All of this sets up how we as viewers should look at what comes next as we move into a more action focused part of the story. I for one am glad that they took the time to set up the ‘vibe’ for a Middle Earth story where the text material from Tolkien was not a full narrative like LoTR but rather an outline and a timeline of events taking up about two pages of Appendix B and the first part of Appendix A.

I’m still exploring the connections with Jewish philosophy so that is a post for another time.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I don’t recall where in Tolkien that a distinction in types of fate/predestination is drawn between ‘in the Song’ and ‘out of the Song’ in the way that Odola has described. Do you have a source for that?
But to the Atani I will give a new gift.' Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest. ...
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. Christopher Tolkien), Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, p.41. cited after an internet source [emphasis mine]


There is a certainly an in-world fate - the 1st Music - to which the humans are not completely bound - and a bigger fate outside of it, to which the humans have a certain access while others have not and which is needed for the world's completion.

This I think is because she was able to tap into her more humble side - she recognises that she is part of a larger plan that she doesn’t understand (conversation with Theo in ep7, and that she just has to keep swimming (conversation with Elrond in ep8 - she was acting on that impulse when she jumped off the boat, as she relates to Elrond, so it was there all along.
I’m still exploring the connections with Jewish philosophy so that is a post for another time.
How can she tapped into her humble side if she has been shown consistently through 5 episodes not to possess any? How is she willing to help when she leaves screaming people in burning houses completely disregarded and leads an obviously unharmed and able to help Theo into the forest to have a random talk with when she literally passes next to people in need on her way doing nothing at all to help them? If she is traumatized, how much then must mere humans be, yet humans are shown to pull themselves together while she, the strongest, does nothing to help anybody. She is shown to go out of her way to help Halbrand but does not do anything to help anybody else.
 
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Ilana Mushin

Active Member
Okay I see where you are coming from. Thanks for the quote. I have always interpreted that passage more as one that foreshadows the dominion of Men and possibly the advent of Christ - things that move beyond the world that is dominated by Elves. But in any case, your reading doesn’t detract from the point I was making about how RoP is echoing many of Tolkien’s own themes in his writing.

And I think we will have to agree to disagree on Galadriel. She has lost her humility, I agree. But it is there, buried and she regains it within this season setting her up for next season. She is not a very humble person, I agree, but I’m talking about the recognition that there are greater things out there than she - and she does realise this in this Season. We meet Galadriel at the low point of her life and she is traumatised and we the viewers are invited to see things from her perspective. This does not mean that others are not traumatised, nor does it mean that Galadriel is callously ignoring the suffering of others. When the volcano goes up, she has just reached the nadir of her downward spiral. I know you don’t like or can’t relate to her characterisation in this season. I see a lot of nuance and complexity in her portrayal that should interestingly contextualise how she will develop into the Lady of Lothlorien. I have no idea how she gets there, but we know that’s where she ends up.
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
And I think we will have to agree to disagree on Galadriel. She has lost her humility, I agree. But it is there, buried and she regains it within this season setting her up for next season. She is not a very humble person, I agree, but I’m talking about the recognition that there are greater things out there than she - and she does realize this in this Season. We meet Galadriel at the low point of her life and she is traumatized and we the viewers are invited to see things from her perspective. This does not mean that others are not traumatized, nor does it mean that Galadriel is callously ignoring the suffering of others. When the volcano goes up, she has just reached the nadir of her downward spiral. I know you don’t like or can’t relate to her characterization in this season. I see a lot of nuance and complexity in her portrayal that should interestingly contextualize how she will develop into the Lady of Lothlorien. I have no idea how she gets there, but we know that’s where she ends up.
I have some issues with that. If I like her or not has nothing to do with the fact if I find her convincingly portrayed as a character.
And I do not. She is shown in extremes. The gradations and transitions - how she comes from one of the extreme to the other - are not shown. We see no development - what has made her reconsider her previous position and to what extent. The steps that make her gradually change, grow and develop. She just suddenly randomly switches for no apparent reason - as similar reasons present in the past already have never made her reconsider her position before -. That is not very engaging imho.
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
Okay I see where you are coming from. Thanks for the quote. I have always interpreted that passage more as one that foreshadows the dominion of Men and possibly the advent of Christ - things that move beyond the world that is dominated by Elves. But in any case, your reading doesn’t detract from the point I was making about how RoP is echoing many of Tolkien’s own themes in his writing.
Among others. But the way it is worded it does imply also a small scale application for each individual human at any point of history and not only to the whole of humanity after the time of elves has ended.
As an large scale example: - Numenor's attack on Valinor was an out-of-Song human action and the changing of the shape of Arda an out-of-Song response to it imho.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
Among others. But the way it is worded it does imply also a small scale application for each individual human at any point of history and not only to the whole of humanity after the time of elves has ended.
As an large scale example: - Numenor's attack on Valinor was an out-of-Song human action and the changing of the shape of Arda an out-of-Song response to it imho.
I think what you are calling ‘out of song’, I was characterising as variations not in the original music - so I think much the same thing. I like the idea of variations because the ‘song’ as such continues. Everything becomes within the song in the end - it can’t be otherwise. So I think we are not very far apart in our take on this.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I think what you are calling ‘out of song’, I was characterising as variations not in the original music - so I think much the same thing. I like the idea of variations because the ‘song’ as such continues. Everything becomes within the song in the end - it can’t be otherwise. So I think we are not very far apart in our take on this.
The issue is - what is "out-of-song" cannot be foreseen or be dealt with easily by the Valar who are themselves bound by the Song. So there is a certain qualitative difference.
But an"out-of-song" action might be helpfull to deal with the effects of Melkor's corruption because such an action - if applied wisely, skillfully and with some self-limitation - can at places transcend (or work around/circumvent it) said corruption - and it also cannot be anticipitated easily by the enemy.
See that humans, for all their many weaknesses, are instumental for fighting evil - which elves, for all their strenght, are generally not very good at doing alone. There seem to be a certain qualitative difference that mortals bring into the equation. And I think this is the greater elasticity that mortal seem to have to play around with their own fates. In so far an Istar allying himself with a mortal - even a perceived weak one - makes sense. As such I am on board with the Nori-plot as shown in RoP.
But I have an issue with implying that an Istar alone would have the capacity to play around with his fate too much without ultimately falling. An Istar has to play in-song.

What I mean simplified - elves and Ainur should not be shown having the talents and gifts that are specific to mortals as they are not mortals.
 
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Ilana Mushin

Active Member
The issue is - what is "out-of-song" cannot be foreseen or be dealt with easily by the Valar who are themselves bound by the Song. So there is a certain qualitative difference.
But an"out-of-song" action might be helpfull to deal with the effects of Melkor's corruption because such an action - if applied wisely, skillfully and with some self-limitation - can at places transcend (or work around/circumvent it) said corruption - and it also cannot be anticipitated easily by the enemy.
See that humans, for all their many weaknesses, are instumental for fighting evil - which elves, for all their strenght, are generally not very good at doing alone. There seem to be a certain qualitative difference that mortals bring into the equation. And I think this is the greater elasticity that mortal seem to have to play around with their own fates. In so far an Istar allying himself with a mortal - even a perceived weak one - makes sense. As such I am on board with the Nori-plot as shown in RoP.
But I have an issue with implying that an Istar alone would have the capacity to play around with his fate too much without ultimately falling. An Istar has to play in-song.

What I mean simplified - elves and Ainur should not be shown having the talents and gifts that are specific to mortals as they are not mortals.
I’m not sure I understand this. I agree that mortals bring something special to the table, but I’ve always interpreted this as their dissatisfaction with the world that is (Which brings them closer to Melkor in this sense). Elves try to enhance and ‘heal’ the world that is, but humans tend to try to change it - hence the going ‘off script’ more than Elves do. But there is nothing essentialist about this (Exhibit A: Noldor). If they were bound to fate in the way you seem to be describing, then how does one make sense of eg. The Kinslaying(s), Turgon’s rejection of Ulmo’s message, to say nothing of the Rings of Power project. These all involve Noldor of course, but the Sindar are also capable of poor choices that lead to destruction (see Thingol).

I would argue that Elves and Humans share a lot of common ground, despite their different relationships between Hroa and FEA. Tolkien depicts them as both Incarnates with similar physiologies of their physical forms and they can have children together. They are capable of a similar range of emotions and physical needs (although Elves are hardier and have a different relationship with time). They are both subcreators by design. This is why I don’t need elves to be completely other-worldly for them to be convincing for me. They can be stronger, more experienced and skillful, more understanding of how the universe works, etc.. They can do things that seem magical to humans. And they can make assumptions about life and living that are strange to humans because of the differences in a mortal and immortal perspective.

This makes the incarnation of Istari really interesting and I like the way this was portrayed in RoP. The Stranger is not accustomed to being incarnate and must learn to eat (and what hunger means), and he hurts himself badly when using powers at first. He is like a newborn baby at first and needs to learn who he is. When we leave him and Nori, he still doesn’t know his name or his mission, but is going on what evidence he has so far. In this season all he is trying to do is work out if he is a peril or not. In one sense he IS a peril - he is dangerous (something that Gandalf says when he comes back from the dead), but he is also altruistic ‘good’, as evidenced by his choice of actions. This teaches him something about himself. I don’t see any evidence that this is going ‘outside of the song’ in that sense.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I’m not sure I understand this. I agree that mortals bring something special to the table, but I’ve always interpreted this as their dissatisfaction with the world that is (Which brings them closer to Melkor in this sense). Elves try to enhance and ‘heal’ the world that is, but humans tend to try to change it - hence the going ‘off script’ more than Elves do. But there is nothing essentialist about this (Exhibit A: Noldor). If they were bound to fate in the way you seem to be describing, then how does one make sense of eg. The Kinslaying(s), Turgon’s rejection of Ulmo’s message, to say nothing of the Rings of Power project. These all involve Noldor of course, but the Sindar are also capable of poor choices that lead to destruction (see Thingol).
It is not to say elves cannot do wrong. They obviously can. They cannot transcend the "natural order of things" - they work within that - intune with it - which is both their blessing and makes them vulnerable to beings who command the "natural order of things" - good or evil.
Humans are naturally "off", they disturb the "natural order of things" by their very being - this makes their own lives much harder but makes it also makes it harder for said "beings that command the natural order" to control them or forsee their deeds completely.
Humans can always rebel - even if seemingly completely enthralled (as long as their mortality has not been compromised - that is - as long as they have not lost their humanity and identity as mortals).
Humans are the agents of chaos to an extent (as they tend to want to force nature to follow their will - and are quite brutal about it),
but are also naturally able to "break the old mold" and make room for "the new that is to come" (to the horror of elves who are by their nature are agents of preservation).
[So simplifying - humans have the capability to "break" the natural order or act "outside of it" in a way that elves cannot - and do stuff completely new - not in the music at all - but lack the ability to work in harmony with it and "within it" to the extent that elves naturally do].

But the main issue is - if for other beings acting "out of song" equals automatically falling from grace,
for humans this is their natural behaviour and what they are meant to do in-world
- if they do it wisely, within the bounds of good and reason and for the right purpose
- if they do not misuse their powers - as any other being is also capable of misusing theirs.

Another beings who seem similar to humans in that regard seem to be dwarves (fitting - as dwarves were created "out of natural order" in the first place - and then retro-fitted in) - dwarves seem to be able to disrupt the natural order of things similarly to humans - but I think dwarves are not able to make room for something new that transcends the natural order - they can just modify the natural order (often quite brutally) to accomodate them - but not to bring about something qualitatively "completely new".

I would argue that Elves and Humans share a lot of common ground, despite their different relationships between Hroa and FEA. Tolkien depicts them as both Incarnates with similar physiologies of their physical forms and they can have children together. They are capable of a similar range of emotions and physical needs (although Elves are hardier and have a different relationship with time). They are both subcreators by design. This is why I don’t need elves to be completely other-worldly for them to be convincing for me. They can be stronger, more experienced and skillful, more understanding of how the universe works, etc.. They can do things that seem magical to humans. And they can make assumptions about life and living that are strange to humans because of the differences in a mortal and immortal perspective.
The main difference between elves and humans is the the hope of the first ones lies in their past and the hope of the second ones lies in their future.

This makes the incarnation of Istari really interesting and I like the way this was portrayed in RoP. The Stranger is not accustomed to being incarnate and must learn to eat (and what hunger means), and he hurts himself badly when using powers at first. He is like a newborn baby at first and needs to learn who he is. When we leave him and Nori, he still doesn’t know his name or his mission, but is going on what evidence he has so far. In this season all he is trying to do is work out if he is a peril or not. In one sense he IS a peril - he is dangerous (something that Gandalf says when he comes back from the dead), but he is also altruistic ‘good’, as evidenced by his choice of actions. This teaches him something about himself. I don’t see any evidence that this is going ‘outside of the song’ in that sense.
I do not see the Stranger as a peril in RoP but just the Harfoots consistetly insisting on ignoring very basic safety rules. But that that is one of my problems with the show - what they intend to show and what they do end up showing does not seem to match at times.

By making the Istari resemble men the Valar show that they thought it the best form for the Istari to be able to perform their tasks. Sill, even if the Istari are made to look like men they are not Men and cannot claim the gifts of Men (Saruman is someone who seems to have forgotten that).



- So my point regarding RoP is: please do not make elves humans and do not make wizards humans. Otherwise the whole story stops making sense. Those other races are not simply humans with added on powers. There are specific gifts that are uniquely human and those make mortals suitable to do counter-fate-intuitive stuff that other people are just not well suited to do - like e.g. bringing the one ring to Mount Doom without Sauron ever noticing - and similar stuff.
 
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