Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In The Beginning of The Beginning of The Beginning

In the book The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, the author recommends that those who wish to learn literature go, not to English classes with an indoctrinatable mind, but to the text with a method. And the method advised is this: that the reader look at every word and ask “Why is this word, and no other, used in this place, and not some other?” and then use this technique to move to larger and larger pieces. Although this is a subtly sexist method (ask me about that. Hee hee), I have no qualms of any sort about using it, except that it takes a long time. Therefore, let us begin.

Begin Quote from the Silmarillion:


Yes, you got it right. I am going to analyze the precise meaning of the one-word title of the first book of The Silmarillion.
First, what does it mean? Underneath the word, Tolkien provides a clue: “The Music of the Ainur.” A more exact translation, however, is The Ainur Sang, or When the Ainur Sang. “Ainu” is Quenya an angelic being, “linda” is Quenya for “To sing” and “le” is the ending that puts the verb in past tense.
Why Quenya? There are two reasons.
Much later in The Silmarillion, Tolkien provides us with one reason. Upon learning of the Kin- slaying of Alqualonde, where one race and linguistic group of elves (the Noldor) slew members of another (the Sindar), King Thingol, the most powerful elven-king in middle-earth, and a member of the Sindar, forbade Quenya, the language of the Noldor and the high tongue of the elves, from being spoken in his lands. The Quenya title alludes to the fact that the events recounted in it are both before the Kinslaying and have Ainu characters, characters who would be immune to the racial disagreements of the elves.
The fact that Quenya is the high tongue of the elves is also significant. In appendix to “The Return of the King” Tolkien calls Quenya an “elven-Latin,” In the days before the liturgical changes of Vatican II (ask me about this too, hee hee), being a time when Ainulindale was most probably written and/or being a time which Tolkien, being the conservative that he was, was likely to have wanted to return to, Latin was the liturgical language of the Catholic Church. Writing the title of this book in Elven-Latin would have had liturgical connotations.
These connotations are reflected in the story itself. Ainulindale is unabashedly a creaton-story, and the Biblical creation story was (and still is) occasionally read in the Catholic Mass, especially at the beginning of the Church year (just as Ainulindale is at the beginning of the Silmarillion). If the Elves prayed within any public ceremonies (Humans did, as is evident from the Akhallabeth), which is likely considering the elvish prayers to Elbereth that are uttered and sung by Frodo, Sam, and the elves themselves, it is likely that some version of the Ainulindale, perhaps the Quenya original of what is in our books today, was used in one of these ceremonies, perhaps chanted by Elrond or Celeborn or Cirdan or Fingofin while all others stood silent, some quivering, perhaps, with mystic delight.
The title tells us that The Ainulindale is a monumental text, the elvish equivalent of Genesis. In our suspension of disbelief that we engage in when we read Tolkien, we can treat it and “feel” it the same way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lord of The Rings: Allegorical??

Allegory. That one genre that J.R.R. Tolkien disliked. Why? Well,
that's not a question that I can answer. But I can definitely perceive
the similar themes between our world and Middle Earth. So how can
this be, since Tolkien disliked allegory? If you take C.S, Lewis' "The
Chronicles of Narnia", you can clearly see the allegory. But what
about LOTR? Do the characters and events represent real life and
Biblical events and people? That's something that can be interpreted
in different ways. However, I believe Tolkien was definitely
influenced by his Catholic faith and view of the world around him,
so there are bound to be many similarities. For example, both worlds
have an omnipotent creator, and there are hundreds of others (I'm
just to lazy to list all of them!!!! It is two 'o' clock in the morning you
know :-) ).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Extended Tolken's Languages Article.

As some of you know, I don't mind absurdly long comments, but this comment on the previous article needs a post to itself, I think.

One very interesting way in which Tolkien might make his world and his language “fit” goes like this:
The structure of a language (and I suppose, the very sounds of its words) shapes (and presumably, can be shaped) [by] the way its speakers think. In “The Philosophy of Tolkien” philosopher Peter Kreeft goes into the underlying (and sometimes explicitly stated) themes beneath the stories. Could the language itself, and the culture producing it and produced by it, have been shaped by Tolken to make:

1. These ideas easy to express in language
2. A culture where such a language would have been formed
3. A culture formed by such a language

By the way, if you are interested in exploring this further (I know I am!), here are the themes that Kreeft finds in Tolkien, expressed as answers, not, as Kreeft does it, as questions.

There are more real things than we can imagine.
There is a supernatural world.
The essences of things exist outside the things themselves.
There is a God.
He is interested in the world.
We have free will, even if things are in some sense foreknown or predetermined.
Relation to God through religion is possible.
Angels are real.
We have guardian angels.
Creatures of a nature between humans and angels are possible.
Nature is beautiful.
Things have personalities.
Some form of magic is real.
Death is not completely evil.
We lose our humanness by being evil.
Heaven is our deepest desire.
Knowledge is not always good.
Intuition is a form of knowledge.
Faith is wisdom.
Real fantasy is allied to, not opposed to, truth.
History is a story.
Tradition is useful, not hinder-ful.
History can be predicted, but only to an extent.
Evolution (primarily cultural evolution) can progress from better to worse.
Human life is neither completely dismal nor completely happy.
Some truly beautiful things involve inequality.
Beauty is always good, though it can cover evil.
Language is connected to reality; it conveys meaning and is more than merely arbitrary symbols.
Music is close to being a universal language.
Small is beautiful.
War can be noble.
Evil is a real nonentity.
Evil is powerful, but less so than goodness.
Evil can happen only by our cooperation.
Evil makes us forget that weakness and renunciation are strengths and goods.
Morality depends primarily on principles.
We must be heroes.
We need hope of some kind.
Authority and obedience are good.
Promises are meant to be kept.
Friendship and humility and generosity and mercy and charity are potent goods.

And here’s some possible ways in which a language might effect these ideas’ presence in a culture. I’m sure there are a lot more. You could invert them for ways the ideas effect the language.

1. By the presence/absence of words useful/necessary for expressing a concept.
2. By an abundance of synonyms pertaining to one of these concepts.
3. By a grammatical structure that makes the construction of proofs of the ideas or some of the ideas difficult/easy.
4. By making some words pertaining to the concepts pleasant/unpleasant to the ear.
think deserves a post to itself.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tolkien's Languages

Tolkien’s true passion was not writing, but languages. From an early age he started creating his own languages that Tolkien enthusiasts are still learning to this day. As a teenager he and some of his friends created the languages Animalic and Nevbosh. Ever since then the young Tolkien became obsessed with creating languages.

The childish languages of Animalic and Nevbosh could hardly be called languages because consisted mostly of English code words and distorted words in English, German and Latin. Tolkien soon went on to create his own much more complicated languages. He didn’t just ascribe words to certain things; he constructed realistic and complicated syntaxes, suffixes, prefixes and roots. (For example “mor” means black and “dor” means land, so “Mordor” means “black land”.) Tolkien used real languages as a basis for his languages. His two most developed languages, Quenya and Sindarin, are based heavily on Finnish and Welsh. He invented these languages purely for his own enjoyment and intellectual stimulation, never dreaming that this hobby would become the basis for his stories about Middle earth. Tolkien realized that in order to create a language, one must have a culture surrounding it. LotR, the Hobbit, and all of his other writings were birthed from his invented languages. In a letter he wrote "The invention of languages is the foundation. The stories were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows... [LotR] is to me...largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic', as I sometimes say to people who ask me 'what is it all about?' "In another letter he wrote "Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real, but it is true."

I am no expert in Tolkien’s Elvish languages, but you can find out more about them at this detailed site: http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/

Friday, December 19, 2008

Still Under Construction!!

If any of you have a relevant Tolkien picture, could you send me
a link? I've found numerous ones, but I'm pretty sure they're all
copyrighted (although I've found them on other blogs). It would
be nice to have a fancy picture I can put on the title especially.

I hope you can all read this now!!!!!! I also hope you've all found

out how to post an comment. Don't tell me you're all fancinated
by my debates with Old Fashioned Liberal. :-) By the way, be sure
to visit his blog at http://aestheticsforum.blogspot.com/.

Gyges: The Original Gollum

This is from Plato's Republic, about 2,200 years before Tolkien. Creepy....
P.S. Read "The Philosophy of Tolkien" by Peter Kreeft if you want to learn more.

Now that those who practise justice do so involuntarily and because
they have not the power to be unjust will best appear if we
imagine something of this kind: having given both to the just
and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see
whither desire will lead them; then we shall discover in the very
act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road,
following their interest, which all natures deem to be their good,
and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law.
The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely
given to them in the form of such a power as is said to have
been possessed by Gyges the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian.
According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service
of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made
an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock.
Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where,
among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors,
at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature,
as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a
gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended.
Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they
might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king;
into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he
was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside
his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company
and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present.
He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned
the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring,
and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he
became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived
to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court;
where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help
conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.
Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put
on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined
to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice.
No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could
safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses
and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison
whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust;
they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may
truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly
or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually,
but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely
be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts
that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice,
and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right.
If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. Enough of this.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Tolkien is not an occult author

Occasionally, people have asked me why the magic in The Lord of the Rings does not make the book unsafe to read. Magic is occult, they say. How can such a book be safe? On the other hand, how can one of the books most beloved of Christians around the world be occult?

Definitions (and no I am not and never have been in debate):
Occult (noun or adjective): Dealings with devils or describing things related to dealings with devils.
Magic: The use of supernatural (relative to the human being) powers.
Safe (for our purposes): Portraying the occult in a negative way or not at all.

First, how is it possible for any work of fiction to be occult at all? The occult is real, and fiction is not. There are two ways in which a work of fiction may contain occult content.

1. By necessity
2. By interpretation

1. Occult by necessity means that characters in the book have dealings with evil spirits. There are two problems with this, however: fantasy often occurs in an imaginary reality, so the devil equivalent is very hard to find, and an evil spirit would not say that he is evil.
Because of the imaginary element, one cannot judge supernatural phenomena inside a fantasy by the same criteria as the same phenomena in the real world. For example, the ability to levitate at will is an occult ability in the real world, but this would not be so if one wrote a fantasy where the characters naturally had the ability to turn gravity on and off. If a natural explanation is possible (even if not stated) within the context of the fantasy world, the fantasy is not occult by necessity.
Also because of the imaginary element, one cannot confuse an ability that would be supernatural in a human with an ability that would be nautural for the imaginary being. For example, Gandalf, as a Maia (not a human), has the ability to instigate opening-spells and shutting-spells, etc. As he is an incarnate Maia, however, he requires the medium of language to make his will expressed to material things. This would be an occult ability for the reasons above for a human. Most of the "good" magic in The Lord of the Rings is of this variety, more akin to impossible technology or mateiralized poetry than to supernatural powers (e.g. the elven-rings, the Mirror of Galadriel, the Palantiri, Aragorn's sword-sheath, etc.)
What can be called occult by necessity, then? Nothing less than that which actually implies dealings with evil spirits: the ability to call on spiritual powers above yourself (this is different from Lucy's magic spell in Prince Caspian, as that took place through the action of an inherently commandable nonpersonal but supernatural medium (and by medium I do not mean seance-driver)) at will for anything from mind-reading to twig-mending, the ability to remove (not invincibly constrain) the free will of another, etc. Among the good characters in The Lord of the Rings, this is never done, and among the evil...well even if it is done, it does not make the book less safe, as they are the evil characters.

2. Occult by interpretation means including thing characteristic of the human occult religion, such as actual spells (yes, they exist), allusions to yogic meditation, white/black false dichotomy, etc. The reason this is called occult by interpretation is because given the fantasy setting, they could be interpreted as perfectly natural phenomena, but because of the danger that some occult things present to humans (Star Wars does contain occult resemblances, but because there is really no more in it than in many pagan faiths, I am not worried) even the inclusion of them with innocent intentions is too dangerous to be used, especially since it could, if it were really innocent, be theoretically tweaked so that it is no longer recognizably occult but still is magical enough for the lover of honest fantasy. I am not well-versed in the specifics of the occult, but Lord of the Rings, as far as I know, contains none of them.

This Is Not Entirely My Blog!!!!!!!

I thought I would let those of you that I have invited to this blog
(thanks for coming by the way) that I'm not the only administrator.
Old Fashioned Liberal is the other administrator (I haven't found
out how to list the contributers yet).

Since this blog hasn't really gotten off the ground, I think we should
limit our posts to Tolkien (and Lewis) related articles (excluding
you Old Fashioned Liberal).

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Flame of Arnor

As you have probably guessed, this is a Tolkien oriented blog.
However, it is not limited to Tolkien related subjects. To put it
bluntly, this is an everything blog!!!!! But Tolkien will be a
prominent part of it (I'm guessing). If you're a Tolkien fan, keep