Lessons learned

Timdalf

Active Member
I was alerted to this blog post.... and want to pass it on. I find myself in particular agreement with #10... i am still debating whether all the technicalities (so lacking in profundity) of "The Nature of Middle-earth" are worth reading. Trying to explain every aspect of a mythology is really ruinous of its effect. See the recent essay in Tolkien Studies XVII - 2020 "The Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man" about the benefits of leaving implied aspects implied and not explicit. Unfortunately Tolkien towards the end was convinced by his fandom into trying to rationalize his mythos in every detail. I am concluding that The Silmarillion is best viewed as cautionary thought experiments to mortal human attitudes rather than ideals to be longed for. In other words, be careful what you wish for: everlasting life under fallen conditions (Elvish or human) is not utopian.

 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I was alerted to this blog post.... and want to pass it on. I find myself in particular agreement with #10... i am still debating whether all the technicalities (so lacking in profundity) of "The Nature of Middle-earth" are worth reading. Trying to explain every aspect of a mythology is really ruinous of its effect. See the recent essay in Tolkien Studies XVII - 2020 "The Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man" about the benefits of leaving implied aspects implied and not explicit. Unfortunately Tolkien towards the end was convinced by his fandom into trying to rationalize his mythos in every detail. I am concluding that The Silmarillion is best viewed as cautionary thought experiments to mortal human attitudes rather than ideals to be longed for. In other words, be careful what you wish for: everlasting life under fallen conditions (Elvish or human) is not utopian.

I am not convinced of that. I think Tolkien wanted to bring the Silmarillion stories into such a focus of narrative as the LOTR was - into a kind of semi-realism where even the moon-phases (which are not at all relevant for the story itself, that it far more important in "The Hobbit", and seem to be "inherited" from it) are acounted for. Which author would count the moon phases in his story before Tolkien? Which also makes it clear that ME IS our world. Because the Moon there is our moon with "our" moon phases. Were Tolkien to "export" his stories into another ficticoius world altogether, it would not make sense for it to have "our" moon phases in it. So actually it comes all down to the moon hases imho - if this is our world, and it has to be, as it has "our" moon ohases in it, then it has to follow "our" world's rules. ;-) And our world's rules demand - among others - that time is time, and species capable of interbreeding must posses some kind of basic biological compatibility. All other Tolkien problems follow from that premise. If in ME it is not possible to have a child with a stone, a tree, a bird or a cloud of mist, and it is not, then we enter into biology, and biology has fixed rules just like astronomy does.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Odola, luv, Your defense of our fav mad professor (who would not object to that appellation) is admirable and heroic. Moons around earth are one thing, going down the rabbit hole (anticipating our next Mythgard Reading) of modern science and astronomy and losing the mythos is another. To be brutal, it is a sign of lack of imagination! The Silmarilion (the Legendarium) grew in all sorts of directions, like a Secret Garden run wild. Christopher should have taken Papa aside, sat down with him and become his fierce editor while he was still alive. No mean challenge for a devotee son. LotR is a coherent tale. TH is a coherent tale. What makes them great is their immediacy, their concreteness, not their technical precisions. TS is in need of weeding, pruning, cultivating. JRRT started listening to us lesser literal minds and not to his Mythic Muse. LotR is great because of its humanity (its hobbitry)... not because of its physics or astronomy. Those are the province of "minds of metal and wheels" and we should be wary of the cautionary tale of JRRT's later excursions out of Faerie down into that -- our -- fallen world. Far better to have brought TS into it own coherence than to have contorted its wondrous Twilight Zone into accord with mathematical science. To do so was a kind of fall, of its own. Tragic but understandable as are all tragedies. But seeing that does not lighten the wrongness of them. The genius of TS is story, not modern technology. A wizard should know better. We cannot now solve this problem... but we should acknowledge it, as we lament it.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Odola, luv, Your defense of our fav mad professor (who would not object to that appellation) is admirable and heroic. Moons around earth are one thing, going down the rabbit hole (anticipating our next Mythgard Reading) of modern science and astronomy and losing the mythos is another. To be brutal, it is a sign of lack of imagination! The Silmarilion (the Legendarium) grew in all sorts of directions, like a Secret Garden run wild. Christopher should have taken Papa aside, sat down with him and become his fierce editor while he was still alive. No mean challenge for a devotee son. LotR is a coherent tale. TH is a coherent tale. What makes them great is their immediacy, their concreteness, not their technical precisions. TS is in need of weeding, pruning, cultivating. JRRT started listening to us lesser literal minds and not to his Mythic Muse. LotR is great because of its humanity (its hobbitry)... not because of its physics or astronomy. Those are the province of "minds of metal and wheels" and we should be wary of the cautionary tale of JRRT's later excursions out of Faerie down into that -- our -- fallen world. Far better to have brought TS into it own coherence than to have contorted its wondrous Twilight Zone into accord with mathematical science. To do so was a kind of fall, of its own. Tragic but understandable as are all tragedies. But seeing that does not lighten the wrongness of them. The genius of TS is story, not modern technology. A wizard should know better. We cannot now solve this problem... but we should acknowledge it, as we lament it.
Imho the root of the fault is not the moons and astronomy. It actually is the "pre-/post" but actually basically Christian morality of the "English" hobbits in TLOTR. It makes only sense in a world which anticipates the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount to be given at some point in time - even if outside of the time frame of the story - but not in a purely pre-hellenistic/pre-roman period, where people assumed a human woman like Leda could lay an egg or a queen inpregnated by a bull give birth to a minotaur like Pasiphae. And in Christian context childbearing is very important, as it is the means of the Incarnation and as such a vehicle of Redemption. It is implied in Tolkien's texts that Luthien's bloodline will be involved in it somehow. So it cannot be left asside as a side detail. Childbearing simply has to work!
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Odola, luv, Your defense of our fav mad professor (who would not object to that appellation) is admirable and heroic. Moons around earth are one thing, going down the rabbit hole (anticipating our next Mythgard Reading) of modern science and astronomy and losing the mythos is another. To be brutal, it is a sign of lack of imagination! The Silmarilion (the Legendarium) grew in all sorts of directions, like a Secret Garden run wild. Christopher should have taken Papa aside, sat down with him and become his fierce editor while he was still alive. No mean challenge for a devotee son. LotR is a coherent tale. TH is a coherent tale. What makes them great is their immediacy, their concreteness, not their technical precisions. TS is in need of weeding, pruning, cultivating. JRRT started listening to us lesser literal minds and not to his Mythic Muse. LotR is great because of its humanity (its hobbitry)... not because of its physics or astronomy. Those are the province of "minds of metal and wheels" and we should be wary of the cautionary tale of JRRT's later excursions out of Faerie down into that -- our -- fallen world. Far better to have brought TS into it own coherence than to have contorted its wondrous Twilight Zone into accord with mathematical science. To do so was a kind of fall, of its own. Tragic but understandable as are all tragedies. But seeing that does not lighten the wrongness of them. The genius of TS is story, not modern technology. A wizard should know better. We cannot now solve this problem... but we should acknowledge it, as we lament it.
Hi Tindalf,

I agree with a lot of your thoughts on The Silmarillion. However, I would note that JRRT never published the thing. (And it may well have been a mistake for Christian to have done so.)

We don't know how JRRT would have written a final version of The Silmarillion had he ever done so. I think we can see him being aware of some of the same problems that you see, as he tries to integrate his old stories with TLOTR, and with being an earlier age in our own world. He certainly became dis-satisfied with the complex math of his 1959 musings on Time and Aging. You can see this in Chapter XVIII, written in 1965, where he seems to be thinking about throwing out the entire complicated 1959 scheme and simplify it dramatically. Or in Chapter XIX, where he thinks of introducing a whole new scheme for Elf aging.

How would JRRT have written a final version of "The Silmarillion"? It might have been more of a narrative, with all that immediacy and concreteness that you admire, with details of cosmology, etc. veiled and only hinted at, as in TLOTR. We just don't know.

JRRT was doing all this background calculation for his own amusement and world-building (I think). I doubt he was planning to publish any of this sort of thing.

In my opinion, all that we have seen so far from 'The Nature of Middle-earth', is how JRRT was thinking and what he was playing with in 1959. We know, if we read carefully, that by 1965, he was abandoning this entire mathematical exercise.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I was alerted to this blog post.... and want to pass it on. I find myself in particular agreement with #10... i am still debating whether all the technicalities (so lacking in profundity) of "The Nature of Middle-earth" are worth reading. Trying to explain every aspect of a mythology is really ruinous of its effect. See the recent essay in Tolkien Studies XVII - 2020 "The Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man" about the benefits of leaving implied aspects implied and not explicit. Unfortunately Tolkien towards the end was convinced by his fandom into trying to rationalize his mythos in every detail. I am concluding that The Silmarillion is best viewed as cautionary thought experiments to mortal human attitudes rather than ideals to be longed for. In other words, be careful what you wish for: everlasting life under fallen conditions (Elvish or human) is not utopian.

Hi Timdalf,

The article you linked seems to me to make the common mistake of many Tolkien lore nerds: It adopts the point of view that everything that JRRT wrote in his notes is a 'conclusion' about the nature of Middle-earth. I suggest that most JRRT notes (and letters) are conjectures, not conclusions about the nature of Middle-earth. Some of these conjectures he might have adopted. Many he would discard.

It is not a good idea to accept anything which JRRT did not publish as authoritative conclusion as to the nature of Middle-earth. He changed his mind often, and revised compulsively.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Hi Timdalf,

The article you linked seems to me to make the common mistake of many Tolkien lore nerds: It adopts the point of view that everything that JRRT wrote in his notes is a 'conclusion' about the nature of Middle-earth. I suggest that most JRRT notes (and letters) are conjectures, not conclusions about the nature of Middle-earth. Some of these conjectures he might have adopted. Many he would discard.

It is not a good idea to accept anything which JRRT did not publish as authoritative conclusion as to the nature of Middle-earth. He changed his mind often, and revised compulsively.
He was not "conjecturing", he was "discovering". ;-) Like Schliemann who choose to believe an old text and found Troy. Has old stories and characters were dear to Tolkien, so dear that he wanted to make them as believable as TLOTR was. He was no longer ready to leave them as vague and random as the old European mythologies were. TLOTR set a new standard. And I do not think Christopher publishers anything against Tlkien wishes. I am convinced Tolkien wanter his readers to know about Maedhros, Turin et co.. He loved them too much want to leave them "dead in a drawer". They were "his children" and not mere plot devices. He just has not lived long enough in a creative enough vigour to provide them with a new, "more worthy" TLOTR-like setting that he would like them to have.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Which author would count the moon phases in his story before Tolkien? Which also makes it clear that ME IS our world. Because the Moon there is our moon with "our" moon phases. Were Tolkien to "export" his stories into another ficticoius world altogether, it would not make sense for it to have "our" moon phases in it. So actually it comes all down to the moon hases imho - if this is our world, and it has to be, as it has "our" moon ohases in it, then it has to follow "our" world's rules
I don't find this convincing. Plenty of fantasy shows us a world with a moon just like ours, but all else changed. I blame lazy authors. Also, just plain ignorant ones: a few years ago I was disgusted by what purported to be a hard-SF story in which the characters sat on a hill and watched the pole star rise.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I don't find this convincing. Plenty of fantasy shows us a world with a moon just like ours, but all else changed. I blame lazy authors. Also, just plain ignorant ones: a few years ago I was disgusted by what purported to be a hard-SF story in which the characters sat on a hill and watched the pole star rise.
Moon like really like ours, really tracked exactly with the cycles and rising and setting position matching those of the days of real moon cycles? The only stories that tend to do this that I do know of are werewolf stories - but there it is warranted by the stories' subject.
 
He was not "conjecturing", he was "discovering". ;-) Like Schliemann who choose to believe an old text and found Troy. Has old stories and characters were dear to Tolkien, so dear that he wanted to make them as believable as TLOTR was. He was no longer ready to leave them as vague and random as the old European mythologies were. TLOTR set a new standard. And I do not think Christopher publishers anything against Tlkien wishes. I am convinced Tolkien wanter his readers to know about Maedhros, Turin et co.. He loved them too much want to leave them "dead in a drawer". They were "his children" and not mere plot devices. He just has not lived long enough in a creative enough vigour to provide them with a new, "more worthy" TLOTR-like setting that he would like them to have.
I dont think that JRR would be happy with the published Silmarillion. Even Christopher regretted some decisions and to have it published in a rush. Additionally JRR wouldnt ever be happy with any published version as he wanted the perfection of his ideas. That is also why he never published it himself. He was ever dissatisfied and without the pressure of a publisher and CS Lewis and poverty he didnt want to publish sth unsatisfactory. The final version of his story he will only find in Niggle's parish and together with his son they are now contemplating it and living the Silmarillion, I hope.
I for my part think that JRR especially misses Eriols framing tale and the theological foundations written in Morgoths Ring. Those are also the points I regret most. So many readers of TS which dont know any about that. I wonder why Christopher cut that out.
There is a book called Arda Reconstructed which is handling all this. Has anyone read it yet? Is it worth the money?
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I dont think that JRR would be happy with the published Silmarillion. Even Christopher regretted some decisions and to have it published in a rush. Additionally JRR wouldnt ever be happy with any published version as he wanted the perfection of his ideas. That is also why he never published it himself. He was ever dissatisfied and without the pressure of a publisher and CS Lewis and poverty he didnt want to publish sth unsatisfactory. The final version of his story he will only find in Niggle's parish and together with his son they are now contemplating it and living the Silmarillion, I hope.
I for my part think that JRR especially misses Eriols framing tale and the theological foundations written in Morgoths Ring. Those are also the points I regret most. So many readers of TS which dont know any about that. I wonder why Christopher cut that out.
There is a book called Arda Reconstructed which is handling all this. Has anyone read it yet? Is it worth the money?
But Tolkien wasn't completely happy with LOTR itself either. He found many mistakes therein. And I think he genuilly wanted to get the stories of the Silmarillion out in the public, perfect or not. He was just too much attached to it emotionally to do it himself.
 
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