The Fall in Middle Earth vs the Fall in Christian theology

Bruce N H

Active Member
Hi all,

Last week's Mythgard Academy (August 7, 2002, Morgoth's Ring class 17) included a discussion of the Fall. Christopher quoted a letter by JRRT - it's letter 212 in Letters of JRRT - comparing the difference between Christian theology and the internal theology his sub-created world. In Christian belief God created a good (i.e. unfallen) world. In Genesis 1 after God creates in different stages there is the repeated refrain "And God saw that it was good," even "very good" at the end of creation. There are two falls - the fall of Satan and later the fall of Adam and Eve - but the one that mattered in that it affected all of creation was that second one, which necessarily happened after Adam and Eve were created and were running around. In contrast to this in Arda, there was really one fall - the fall of Morgoth. His discord in the music was part of the very act of creation, so fallenness was worked into the warp and woof of all of Arda Marred.

Anyway, this got me thinking. Within the logic of the story the world was inherently marred because the fallen Morgoth was one of the subcreators involved in the act of creation. Outside the story, in Tolkien's theology he himself as a Son of Adam (to quote Mr. Tumnus) is fallen. Therefore the world he creates will itself be inherently fallen. Back to Letters of JRRT, in letter 131 he writes: "Anyway, all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive occurs in several modes. ... There cannot be any 'story' without a fall - all stories are ultimately about the fall- at least not for human minds as we know them and have them." (emphasis mine). Tolkien says here that a story by a human mind will always include fallenness, and so he couldn't create a world that didn't have fallenness in its very DNA. Anyway, I find it interesting that this in some ways connects Tolkien* with Morgoth - they are both fallen subcreators, and their own fallenness infects the worlds they help subcreate.

Bruce

*And, for that matter, all of us, in Tolkien's theology, as we all come from Adam and Eve and (back to Lewis, here Aslan speaking to Caspian) "that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth. Be content."
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Good post Bruce,

Let me juxtapose another comparison: The Fall in Middle Earth vs. the Fall in Evolution

I think the story of the Fall in Christian theology is an excellent achetypal story of the Fall (or awakening) of Men into self-consciousness in Evolution.

Once upon a time, our ancestors were all as animals. They had limited self-consciousness, limited perception of time, limited perception of mortality. However, due to some evolutionary processes, over some unknown period of time and generations, Men became self-conscious. In parable, they 'ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' and became aware of their own mortality, brief span, and suffering. Being aware of their own condition, they could also apply that knowledge to others, becoming aware of how they could help others and also hurt others (either for their own benefit, or just in their own nihilistic despair). Thus becoming aware of good and evil in a way that animals are not.

Now, the chief differences between the Evolutionary world and Middle Earth are that Men in Middle Earth did not evolve, but were awakened self-aware. It might have taken them a few years, or decades, or more than a generation to deduce the full extent of the Human Condition, but it would have happened much more rapidly than in evolutionary terms. Then, of course, Men in Middle-earth, at some point encountered Elves. Beings very much like Men, but with key differences, most obviously, that Men had a short time, with inevitable suffering in Middle-earth and then died, whereas Elves had forever in Middle-earth, and could whisk away to Valinor where there was no (or at least much less) suffering.

My hypothesis is that Men in Middle-earth had all Fallen within a few years or decades of awakening. Elves, however, were mostly unfallen, (at least most of those who went to Valinor, and perhaps many who did not). For sure, Elves can Fall. We see that with many of the Noldor. But consider what is said of Manwe in the Silmarillion, when he grants a seemingly repentant Melkor leave to go freely about the land. "and it seemed to Manwe that the evil of Melkor was cured. For Manwe was free from evil and could not comprehend it." Manwe is un-Fallen. He has not the knowledge of good and evil. That is, he might have some intellectual comprehension of evil, but he knows it not within himself.

Are there Elves that are, like Manwe, unfallen? I think so.
 
D

Deleted member 207

Guest
I think it’s important here to talk about different interpretations of the Genesis narrative and actually the ongoing story of the Bible as a whole (but especially focused on the Old Testament). To just go into basic narrative as is the Bible, firstly the Fall of Lucifer is not truly present. Later schools of thought linked the snake to the name ‘Lucifer’ and Milton really helped cement a concrete backstory, but in the Bible itself it’s very hard to ever pinpoint a singular adversary embodying evil forces anywhere in the narrative. It’s just not a primary concern.

There certainly is a created being in the form of a creature who presents humanity with a test which is failed.The test being ‘will you chose to hear the voice of Yahweh and thus fulfil your created purpose, or will you chose to try and attain that inheritance in your own strength, thus defining good and bad for yourselves, and thus miss it.’ Will humanity chose to love Yahweh for who he is or follow him to get what he can give and ultimately try to take it for themselves. This is the test that is failed. Humanity defines right and wrong for itself. The Ancient Hebrews only had to look around themselves to see this is what humanity does, but also that clearly we have the potential to be more than we are. The narrative explains this discrepancy. We are given the choice and choice poorly. Often it seems.

And as with most things in those first pages of Genesis, phrases and imagery and themes repeat throughout the rest of the Torah and onwards. Human narratively set up to be new Adam and restore Creation. Often meeting Yahweh on a high place with a treemicrocosm of The Garden. Presented with test. Fails. And so on and so on. The message is that humanity alone cannot do it.

And peppered throughout Genesis are repeated Fall narratives. Often the Elohim, spiritual beings, mirroring humanity. A sort of image that all is broken.

But the first Fall narrative is decidedly human. Thus the ultimate restoration story is human. It is the fulfillment of the New Adam story arc. Thus the concept of The Garden can be rebuilt.

The first human to chose following Yahweh over obtaining the gift, is Abraham.

Of course, by this point he has been promised to the father of nations, but fails the test as he doesn’t follow the voice and instead ‘sees what is good in his eyes’ and impregnates a slave girl to obtain a child then casts both aside. He spectacularly fails to live up to the potential of humanity’s purpose.

Later, when he is blessed with a child, he must confront himself and ask if he loves Yahweh or his gifts only. He chooses wisely and this achieves all he has been promised. The irony being that things only fall apart when humanity tries to hold things for themselves.

But what is the comparison. Well, it goes back to what humanity was intended to be.

In the Genesis account and throughout the Hebrew narrative, humanity is plainly not developed to be just dropped into the world as another creature. What humanity is meant to be is a co-ruling sub-creator. As certain beings were given command of certain realms, humanity was given the physical world to name and govern. They were in the likeness of Yahweh. Narratively he submits a level of control to them for the express pleasure of co-creating with partners. The irony then is that humanity is lied to and promised falsely that, if it chooses to define good and bad, rejecting the embodied fruit of eternal life, then they will be akin to Yahweh, the very thing they have already been made in the image of. And in striving for it themselves, they lose that which they would have grown into as they developed.

Humanity is the Ancient Hebrew worldview is the sub co-creator. We are all Melkor.

Humanity, to the Biblical authors, missed their mark. Literally ‘sinned’, meaning that they failed to strike the target.

And by failing in the role of governing and cultivating the Earth, as gardeners, humanity marred it.

I’d love to go into repeated themes and imagery but not sure how it all ties to Middle Earth lol

*later in the Job story, a similar figure that is describe as ‘a satan’ is featured, but this literally means ‘one who opposes’ and is more a narrative function than name. At one point Yahweh is desrcribe as fulfilling the role of an opposer ‘a satan’ in the Hebrew, when he blocks a path. The Bible, being an oral history for the majority of its life, had lots of characters memorably named after what they do.
 
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I like your post a lot but I dont agree with your thesis that he represents someone else than that person Satan.
Tolkien was Christian and not Jewish. Therefore most important to his Theology was the New Testament which introduced the second Adam and Eve and fulfilled the Genesis story. And it is impossible to dash out Satan from the Gospels. Without Satan there is no Christianity
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I like the jewish position far better.But i agree that it doesn't look much like i understand tolkien's position.One has to differenciate between what one self likes and wants to see and what we know aboutnthe author and his intentions.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I like the jewish position far better.But i agree that it doesn't look much like i understand tolkien's position.One has to differenciate between what one self likes and wants to see and what we know aboutnthe author and his intentions.
I put little credit on author and their intentions. I think what one likes and sees in the story is what counts.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Allright! Well i guess i am kinda in a middle ground between both. What i like about a story and what interests me about it is what comes first, otherwisely i wouldn't waste my time with it anyway.Then... if the story is good enough comes the background,,the why and also the author steps more forward , with his intentions... if i like them or not.With Tolkien i often disagree on many things, but i like his writings and respect his intentions and background even when we are at odds.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Yeah, I'll give you that, for sure. It can be interesting to find out about the author. But I dislike when discourse about the order influences reading. And when (like an old English teacher did to a classmate) somebody's reaction to the text is not valued because it's not what the text is 'really about'. Similarly, I don't enjoy allegorically comparisons, especially when it comes to placing certain religious viewpoints onto Tolkien's texts. I think for me it subtracts rather than adds to the text. For starters, a lot of the time people seem to ascribe their own understandings of religion to Tolkien's beliefs. Yes, he was a Catholic and has spoken openly about some of his ideologies. But we don't know them all. There is a wide ranging interpretation of Biblical texts and, as a philologist and student of other mythologies, he may have had a different approach to his own reading and application of the Bible (outside of the areas he discussed). Secondly, though an author may write with intentions, whether they are successful in pulling off those intentions or not is a whole other matter. People have pointed this out often here when discussing Tolkien's wrangling with elves and with orcs and how they fit into what he may or may not have wanted to say with his own Creation myths. I'm not saying these conversations aren't interesting and shouldn't be had, but for me, what Tolkien believed or intended is just a bit immaterial to the story. The great thing about Tolkien is his works are generally written within a frame. They are in-world narratives. So any discrepancies likewise tell a story about the in-world authors. Which I personally find more fun. I guess my personal preference is just a Death of the Author outlook. I don't want to take the thing apart to see how it works. Except perhaps from a craft point of view. I will happily look at the craftsmanship of the writing to work out what works and what doesn't, but that is again my own subjective response to what is before me.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I agree. A work of art is more than the pieces the artist put together and often quite not what he himself intended.Often exactly that unintended transgression is what makes a piece of art a great piece of art.

So... the fall from an in-world perspective, the eyes of the fictional authors... where are we now? Because personally i am a bit confused now.What is this fall we are talking about?
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I feel it’s very hard to pin down because really what we have is a mythology/history captured second hand by elves and third hand by Bilbo and those following in his literary footsteps. I’m not sure how much interest Frodo and Sam have in the stories of Ainur. Not enough to have recorded it. Hobbits do not have long memories and aren’t interested in events that don’t involve them. Frodo and his ilk are obviously stark exceptions but even still, the texts don’t seem to indicate much of a focus for ancient matters. So what we have is the Silmarillion as the source of such stories (except perhaps the more intimate, less cosmic falls from grace with the likes of Saruman and Denethor). But the question of how it relates to the Abrahamic Creation legend I would approach as one of textual comparison not intent. But I’ve not given it enough thought to make clear statements here. For me, the Ainulindale is the section of the Silmarillion I remember best and enjoy the most. I think because it feels most like a cosmic mythology and those are the sorts of stories I’ve always been attracted to. Thinking about it as the mythology as told by elves is interesting because, like other mythologies, the way it is told and the reasons it is told, tells you a lot about the tellers. To study myths is to learn what matters to the people who believe them. Of course, with elves we get eh added layer that many of them lived very close to the fact. Even if they weren’t there at the start, many certainly interacted with key players. Reading the Silmarillion then is perhaps less like reading Genesis and more like reading the letters of Paul, if we want to be comparative. I think what I want to do is go away and think what the Ainulindale as told by elves actually tells us about elves.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Not everyone sees the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old (which, by the way, is different from the Jewish Tanakh). I won't complicate matters by looking at Genesis in a different way, not beginning with a Fall, except to say that morality changes over thousands of years.

I don't take that as a given, and find it problematic when LOTR is analyzed from a fully Christian/Catholic perspective. Tolkien's religion probably does influence LOTR, but I've been reading it for decades without considering its theology. And I think this last class shows that Tolkien himself had some trouble fitting his theology into a world that includes elves without some contortions - immortal beings are not accounted for, and mythologies tend to have their own life.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Not everyone sees the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old (which, by the way, is different from the Jewish Tanakh). I won't complicate matters by looking at Genesis in a different way, not beginning with a Fall, except to say that morality changes over thousands of years.

I don't take that as a given, and find it problematic when LOTR is analyzed from a fully Christian/Catholic perspective. Tolkien's religion probably does influence LOTR, but I've been reading it for decades without considering its theology. And I think this last class shows that Tolkien himself had some trouble fitting his theology into a world that includes elves without some contortions - immortal beings are not accounted for, and mythologies tend to have their own life.
Yes, of couse morality does change over time, but usually not without a reason. The problem is that the culturally anachronistic 18/19th century A.D. hobbits have a (post-)Christian sub-aware morality which is completely baseless outside of a "pre/-post" Christian context and Aragorn and Gandalf seem to have one a similar one to them. The Rohirrim have a far more archaic heroic one, but the Gondorians again have one in between with individual variances with Faramir coming close to the one of the hobbits. The general morality in the Silmarilion resembles more the archaic Rohirric one, but here we have to account for the fact that Bilbo would tell any story he has heard in a way that he himself could have understood, so we do have a hobbit filter on all of the stories.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Not everyone sees the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old (which, by the way, is different from the Jewish Tanakh). I won't complicate matters by looking at Genesis in a different way, not beginning with a Fall, except to say that morality changes over thousands of years.

I don't take that as a given, and find it problematic when LOTR is analyzed from a fully Christian/Catholic perspective. Tolkien's religion probably does influence LOTR, but I've been reading it for decades without considering its theology. And I think this last class shows that Tolkien himself had some trouble fitting his theology into a world that includes elves without some contortions - immortal beings are not accounted for, and mythologies tend to have their own life.
Perhaps I came across wrong. I was making reference to New Testament being a fulfilment of the Old. I was referencing the fact that Paul’s letter are his perspective on events (the life of Christ) that were close to his lifetime but that he may not have been directly involved in. Whereas Genesis is plainly a reflective oral meditation on the state of being then capture much later in a written from. Perhaps closer to Bilbo’s writings.

As I said, I make these comparisons reticently. It was done to fit into the the then of the discussion. While it’s interesting in some ways, it’s not what I enjoy about reading. I like finding the worlds on their own rights. I think Middle Earth is far more than allegory and even where there are those points of applicability that to me is only the emotionally hooks that all good literature inspires. Whether Tolkien’s world is ‘Christian’ or not isn’t really interesting to me.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
As I said, I make these comparisons reticently. It was done to fit into the the then of the discussion. While it’s interesting in some ways, it’s not what I enjoy about reading. I like finding the worlds on their own rights. I think Middle Earth is far more than allegory and even where there are those points of applicability that to me is only the emotionally hooks that all good literature inspires. Whether Tolkien’s world is ‘Christian’ or not isn’t really interesting to me.
I would not consider TLOTR an allegry at all. More a study on the nature of evil. But the concept of evil studied in it is at its core a Christian one.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Yes, of couse morality does change over time, but usually not without a reason. The problem is that the culturally anachronistic 18/19th century A.D. hobbits have a (post-)Christian sub-aware morality which is completely baseless outside of a "pre/-post" Christian context and Aragorn and Gandalf seem to have one a similar one to them.
How can a morality based on the Bible be baseless outside of a "pre/post" Christian context? Post-Biblical, I'm willing to say, but that does not necessarily include the New Testament. I realize that in Europe and the Americas, Christianity is the default, but it is not the only, post-Biblical religion and therefore it either has a separate morality, or it shares the basics of morality. I'd actually include Islam, which would make it post-Abrahamic rather than post-Biblical, based on the Muslims I know.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
How can a morality based on the Bible be baseless outside of a "pre/post" Christian context? Post-Biblical, I'm willing to say, but that does not necessarily include the New Testament. I realize that in Europe and the Americas, Christianity is the default, but it is not the only, post-Biblical religion and therefore it either has a separate morality, or it shares the basics of morality. I'd actually include Islam, which would make it post-Abrahamic rather than post-Biblical, based on the Muslims I know.
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Because the hobbit morality is based on a idealised morality of 18-19th rural England and that - as any Christian morality is - was based mainly on the Sermon on the Mount. Not on the Noahite or the Mosaic Law - even if I do not deny that the Sermon on the Mount is itself based on both the Mosaic and Noahite Laws, but it cannot be reduced back to them completely - there are significant new added elements in it.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
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Because the hobbit morality is based on a idealised morality of 18-19th rural England and that - as any Christian morality is - was based mainly on the Sermon on the Mount. Not on the Noahite or the Mosaic Law - even if I do not deny that the Sermon on the Mount is itself based on both the Mosaic and Noahite Laws, but it cannot be reduced back to them completely - there are significant new added elements in it.
It is only based on that if you view the work through the lease of authorial intent. In context of its own narrative, Christianity does not exist and thus has zero bearing. Morality is a mutable concept not solely dependent on one faith or interpretation of said faith. And Hobbits are, from what we’ve seen, largely a non-faith based people so their morality is rooted elsewhere.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
It is only based on that if you view the work through the lease of authorial intent. In context of its own narrative, Christianity does not exist and thus has zero bearing. Morality is a mutable concept not solely dependent on one faith or interpretation of said faith. And Hobbits are, from what we’ve seen, largely a non-faith based people so their morality is rooted elsewhere.
No, I do not view that as authorial intent. The Hobbit was a whimsical story for children and so it just copied the morality they would be familiar without much afterthought. As TLOTR was its continution the hobbits continued operate in the same framework. But even in The Hobbit it is visible that there are different kinds of morality. Beorn has for examle the most different - far more primal one - from people on the good side in The Hobbit, so do the Eagles. And most morality in ancient time was based on decrees of divine kings. Otherwise there was no authority high enough to make those rulings binding fo all. Even if the hobbits have forgotten where their rules come from, as they have internalised them as self-evident, they got them in-narative from the old Anorian kings. And those from Numenor and that from the Valar. Still the rules are so obviously Christian to anybody who even only dabbed into any other historic moral system, that to dismiss that is like dismissing the moon phases in-text being explicitly that of our moon and the constellation being our constellations.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
No, I do not view that as authorial intent. The Hobbit was a whimsical story for children and so it just copied the morality they would be familiar without much afterthought. As TLOTR was its continution the hobbits continued operate in the same framework.
Again, this is the focus of facts external to the text. Which I don’t have a particular interest in when enjoying the story. It’s not factually inaccurate but irrelevant in my own personal reading.

But even in The Hobbit it is visible that there are different kinds of morality. Beorn has for examle the most different - far more primal one - from people on the good side in The Hobbit, so do the Eagles. And most morality in ancient time was based on decrees of divine kings. Otherwise there was no authority high enough to make those rulings binding fo all.
Totally agree. It’s why the oft-cited, more-a-meme-than-legit-complaint of ‘why didn’t they ride the eagles to Mordor’ makes no sense. It assumes all people’s have the same worldview. They don’t. It’s own of the things that makes Middle Earth so rich.

Even if the hobbits have forgotten where their rules come from, as they have internalised them as self-evident, they got them in-narative from the old Anorian kings. And those from Numenor and that from the Valar.
Yes. Again, the richness is that the tapestry of Middle Earth’s history creeps into all cultures. It’s a very tangible reality.

Still the rules are so obviously Christian to anybody who even only dabbed into any other historic moral system, that to dismiss that is like dismissing the moon phases in-text being explicitly that of our moon and the constellation being our constellations.
But there is no evidence the constellations are our own. I don’t expect them to be in a fantasy world. I don’t expect similarities to a particular concept of Christian morality to be anything more than similarities I am using as reference points for understanding. I bring that familiarity to frame why I’m reading but I also know it’s not relevant to the world I am reading. ‘Oh, that’s something i can understand’ regarding a moral worldview is no different to ‘okay, okay I know what a wolf is’. But it doesn’t mean I assume the thing I recognise as a wolf in Tolkien’s world has the same lineage and origins as a thing of similar shape in my reality. I don’t assume evolution in my fantasy took the same course because it did in my reality. It’s just that I have a reference point to understand the language used. Sorry, I’m struggling for a good analogy here. What I mean is, I don’t see any evidence to suggest the attitude of Hobbits is anything I should be connecting to Christianity as that isn’t something that exists in their past.

I like Tolkien’s world because by and large it exists as a closed circuit. I totally get that one way to read is to examine the comparisons and influences, but it’s not a way I personally enjoy my fantasy.

Im not arguing you are wrong or not allowed to hold these opinions and readings, I’m just trying to explain that I’m coming from a different angle. And we probably won’t agree on some of those issues as our approach is different. And yet, I think the beauty of Tolkien’s world is that it’s so rich that it allows for so many readings and critical approaches.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Perhaps I came across wrong. I was making reference to New Testament being a fulfilment of the Old. I was referencing the fact that Paul’s letter are his perspective on events (the life of Christ) that were close to his lifetime but that he may not have been directly involved in. Whereas Genesis is plainly a reflective oral meditation on the state of being then capture much later in a written from. Perhaps closer to Bilbo’s writings.
Thank you - I was not referring to your comment when I said that, but to the prior discussion. I took your comment to refer to the time and type of composition of the two books, which is what I think you intended. I take Genesis to be a collection of oral tales (except for the first chapter) about a family that became ancestors of the people telling the tales. (Also a polemic on how not to raise children.) I also consider the whole Bible as a history, at least in part, of how those people viewed and related to God over several thousand years. What I like about Genesis is the imperfection of the people in the stories.

In general, I appreciate and relate to your comments - I think without them I wouldn't have ventured to comment myself.
 
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