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ishmael
02-22-2003, 10:29 PM
Just re-watched the first film. Tolkien's vision haunts me. I first read him when I was twelve or so.

Frankly, I don't understand the symbolism, even after all these years. I love it, and want to understand. What the bloody hell is this ring?

It seems the epitome of power and evil--no good can come of it. Yet it also seems the ruler. I'm confused.

What's it mean to you?

Rocky
02-22-2003, 10:41 PM
Tolkien always rejected allegations that LOR was allegorical, but some say the Ring symbolized the rape of the pastoral way of life through industrialization, something that happened quite vividly to the area where JRR grew up. Although it was beautiful a great deal of destruction went into its creation, and it controlled all the other rings. Saruman did this quite deliberately to Isengard in his quest for raw power, even though it was obvious, as Gandalf pointed out to him, that he was only enslaving himself to another.

JRR was also in a WWI battle where he was the only survivor of his unit.

Tolkien took a lot of the story from a particular strain of Scandinavian lore, sort of a Britannic version of the Niebelung. As many Vikings settled in East Anglia, I believe, the Norse sagas are also Britannic sagas.

[ 02-25-2003, 05:52 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

LeeG
02-22-2003, 10:58 PM
a tool that uses the user, greed, narcotic power, an addiction.

Leon m
02-22-2003, 11:07 PM
George Bush,Dick Chaney,Donald Rumsfeld...
WHOOPS!...Typo..I mean money ,power,greed.. :D

Peter Malcolm Jardine
02-22-2003, 11:13 PM
Tolkien was an ancient studies guy if I remember right... The trilogy has a lot of influences in myth as well as christian influences. I think the ring signifies the selfishness of man... sort of an eden apple transformed into something more powerful and dark. Frodo's absolutely pure heart is an insulator of sorts against the power, but even he is caught in a struggle. I loved both films, absolutely stunning cinematography.
Gandalf at the bridge... wow

ishmael
02-22-2003, 11:23 PM
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

garland reese
02-23-2003, 12:01 AM
I never really took The Tolkein trilogy for anything more than a fairly good story..........

ishmael
02-23-2003, 12:05 AM
Garland,

Hah, I would agree, 'cept it lites people up, has for decades.

I wanna know why. And doan tell me it's just a good story.

TomFF
02-23-2003, 12:37 AM
It isn't that Frodo is pure. The story reveals that it isn't. In the end he wants the power. But in the book it is humility; hobbitt sense and the love of friends and simple living that keeps them from the worst of the ring's temptation.

What is the ring? Good question...It is the desire to control; to rule; to be the top dog.

Why does it light my candle? I love the story because it shows how weakness is the mightest stuff around. The least (humble, simple, unassuming) is the greatest of all. Certainly a healthy (and biblical) theme.

Beside that- it's a good story- archery, swords, triumph over evil. Cool stuff.

Obscurity ain't a bad thing.

[ 02-23-2003, 12:38 AM: Message edited by: TomFF ]

Rocky
02-23-2003, 01:15 AM
I was trying to figure out what the first three Star Wars movies had that are so totally lacking in the last two. Maybe it was the sense that this was part of a story that went back into distant time and incorporated everyone living and dead, the way Lord of the Rings does.

Wild Dingo
02-23-2003, 02:27 AM
Originally posted by garland reese:
I never really took The Tolkein trilogy for anything more than a fairly good story..........Actually my take on Garlands statement is rather...

I never really took The Tolein trilogy for anthing more than a good faiery story.....

Graphics were excellent in the first one havent seen any others and never read the book... so of course Im just taking my view from the first movie :rolleyes: ...Faiery story simple... but a good watch them Kiwis aint to bad at actin the bad guy are they?? HA! :D

Meerkat
02-23-2003, 02:51 AM
It's an allegorical story about Tolkien's marriage ;) Golom was obviously his ex ;) He obviously knew some gay guys (the fairies) and the middle-earthers where probably some English country gentlemen. Mordor was probably Germany. Add a vivid imaginaion, a few nightmares, a couple of brutal hangovers and viola! bob's your uncle ;)

There are two obvious morals to this story: don't let anyone give you a ring and don't buy the cow when the milk is free ;)

Greg H
02-23-2003, 08:41 AM
I look at his work like I do any other piece of art. The interpretation is individual to the reader. He has, however tapped some universal achetypes(?)that resonate through the human unconsious.

To put the signifigance of the rings into perspective, read the Silmarillion. It's a creation story and history, told through a collection of tales and narratives. The "war of the rings" comes at the end of the third age and the beginning of the age of men.

Sam F
02-23-2003, 10:53 AM
Originally posted by ishmael:
Just re-watched the first film. Tolkien's vision haunts me. I first read him when I was twelve or so.

Frankly, I don't understand the symbolism, even after all these years. I love it, and want to understand. What the bloody hell is this ring?

It seems the epitome of power and evil--no good can come of it. Yet it also seems the ruler. I'm confused.

What's it mean to you?As Rocky says this isnít the first ring of power in Western literature or history. At one time in Ancient Rome it was forbidden for commoners to wear a gold ring. That privilege was reserved for rulers. The rings (not just the One) signify authority and being bound by that authority; something like a Bishopís ring. Of course, the One ring binds one to evil. They are also like wedding bands. Nowadays they are thoughtlessly discarded but once, putting on that ring was a serious matter that bound one for life. Slipping a ring of power on oneís finger has similar effects. It changes and binds one forever.

Greg H is right in saying that one can interpret any work of literature in anyway one prefers. Who can stop it? But that said, it is always true that an author has a particular point of view. Ignoring that guaranties misinterpretation. Below are a few observations in no particular order. I am not a Tolkein expert but I think these are reasonably on target.

The fact is, that the Lord of the Rings is a product of Tolkeinís orthodox Catholicism. Not grappling with that will always lead one astray. Orthodox Catholic thought is fairly alien to most North Americans and especially some Protestants who canít imagine how magic can coexist with Christianity. Fundamentalists especially, forget that Christianity is embedded in time. It has a before and an after. Not all that has gone before is delegitimized by the later clarification of Godís will.

Hereís how those irreconcilables can coexist.
Middle Earth exists BC, (for you moderns, that means Before Christ). Before the beginning of the fulfillment of Godís purpose for the world, magic wasnít strictly forbidden because people didnít know any better. Call it a loophole if you want. One can see this same principle at work in C.S. Lewisís book ďThat Hideous StrengthĒ when Merlin is released from his long imprisonment. (Lewis btw, was a close friend of Tolkeinís and a fellow Inkling)
The reason that magic is destined to vanish from Middle Earth is an awareness (by the characters) that their age is ending and a new one is dawning.
AD the rules change. The twilight imagery of the LOTR emphasizes that coming change. This same effect can be seen in history where some of the Roman pagans seemed to sense the ending of their way of life and were gradually trending towards monotheism. (Why do you think that Virgil is Danteís guide?) History was coming to a fulfillment. Whether one agrees or not, it was once a standard Catholic interpretation of events.

The One Ring is the work of Satanís servant Sauron. This is also fairly explicit since Sauron is called a servant of another. It is standard Catholic theology that Satan cannot create only twist and finally destroy. This is evident in Sauronís creatures: Trolls and orcs. Trolls are poor copies of Ents and Orcs of elves. Even they are not totally evil since to be so is impossible. Existence itself is a good after all. Tolkein gives the trolls (in the Hobbit) and Orcs personality and character. They arenít at all nice but they are humanized to some extent with their own motives and ambitions that while evil are independent of Sauron. The movies make an awful botch job of the Orcs by removing all their character.

Unknown to almost all readers is that the Shireís mode of life isnít just nostalgia for a vanished Britain. It has a political economy that is based on Distributism, an economic theory based on Catholic social teachings. This is especially clear at the bookís end where the wage-slave Capitalism of Sharkey (remember the miller?) is contrasted with the self-reliant traditional economy of the Shire.

Shane. Forget the movies and read the book. As movies, they are OK I suppose, but as interpretations of a book they are pitiful. The first movie was fair. The second film was bad. I predict that the third movie will go from bad to worse.

ishmael
02-23-2003, 11:10 AM
Thanks Sam, that's good.

I wonder how much Tolkien wrestled the pagan elements of his story. He must have known, on some level, it would inspire a bunch of pipeweed-smoking-hobbit-wannabes. Maybe not.

The ring is a form of idolatry then? As such, a symbol of the power of denying God, of attaching allegiance to a symbol. I like it.

We have much to learn.

Jack

[ 02-23-2003, 11:30 AM: Message edited by: ishmael ]

ahp
02-23-2003, 11:43 AM
There is an extensive mythology about rings of power in Northern Europe, and Tolken was very familiar with it. Remember that Wagner mined this source too with his Ring Cycle of four operas.

Rex Fearnehough
02-23-2003, 02:55 PM
www.sacred-texts.com/neu/vlsng/ (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/vlsng/)
Here you are Ish, where it all started.
Then go to the "Nibelung Saga,"
Best read whilst playing the "Ring."
Rex.
http://www.hildringstimen.no/bilder/salaroy.jpg

Joe (SoCal)
02-23-2003, 03:20 PM
Ish I always looked at the intoxication of the ring as the supreme example of power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely. I was never a particular fan of the book. It was required reading in school. There were groups of people that lived and died as though LOTR was the beginning and end of there existence. There were Dungeons and Dragons games that absorbed a lot of people. Me I thought the movies were MUCH better then the books - hey there is a first. Visually they were stunning, and WOW NZ is beautiful.

Otter
02-23-2003, 03:25 PM
Can't really attempt to offer a definitive answer. My wife, however, until recently taught literature to convicts in a maximum security prison and they read Tolkien.

It was interesting how they interpreted the story and could draw allusions based on their own situations. The ring became a symbol of something that promised an easy life. Something that promised, at least on the surface, to offer amusement, power, or at least a power over the rules. After aquiring this power it betrayed the user and started to take over his soul.

In this context several cons could relate to the ring as a symbol for drugs, quick money, scams, lies etc.

Maybe in the sense of the pastoral that is mentioned above, technology or things that we use that promise to make our life easier end up complicating our lives and making them far more complicated that we had hoped for. Distancing ourselves from that which we understand as human. In some instances even destroying our souls.

Rocky
02-23-2003, 05:43 PM
I read once that JRR was asked by his don to create a list of references to some obscure facet of medievel lore, and three days later handed in a paper that contained every single reference in existence to the subject.

[ 02-23-2003, 08:46 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

ishmael
02-23-2003, 06:31 PM
Rocky,

Yeah, he was the scholar most can only dream of. It gives his books a weight missing from all fantastic literature since.

Re-reading LOTR recently (actually parts of it) I was amazed at how pompous much of the language is. I never was a hobbit wannabe, but I had friends. When I was younger, I dived delightedly into the books. They were a valve, opened full, that allowed the tensions of the Viet Nam war to bleed safely. Otherwise I might have joined the Symbionese Liberation Army. ;)

Sam's is the best answer so far, even with its Catholic flaws. Com'on folks, I'm counting on ya. smile.gif

Sam F
02-23-2003, 06:38 PM
Originally posted by Otter:
[QB
It was interesting how they interpreted the story and could draw allusions based on their own situations. The ring became a symbol of something that promised an easy life. Something that promised, at least on the surface, to offer amusement, power, or at least a power over the rules. After aquiring this power it betrayed the user and started to take over his soul.

In this context several cons could relate to the ring as a symbol for drugs, quick money, scams, lies etc.

Maybe in the sense of the pastoral that is mentioned above, technology or things that we use that promise to make our life easier end up complicating our lives and making them far more complicated that we had hoped for. Distancing ourselves from that which we understand as human. In some instances even destroying our souls.[/QB]Otter, your wife's students made some perceptive observations. They echo (as did Tolkien) the Baptismal promises about rejecting the "glamour of evil" and Satan's "empty promises". That accurately represents the soul poison of the One Ring: the Free Lunch, the shortcut to desire, which ends up costing everything that matters.

Sam F
02-23-2003, 07:00 PM
Originally posted by ishmael:
I wonder how much Tolkien wrestled the pagan elements of his story. He must have known, on some level, it would inspire a bunch of pipeweed-smoking-hobbit-wannabes. Maybe not. I doubt very much if he gave it a second thought. I bet Tolkien considered the old paganism dead and that there was no great risk of anyone fanning those ashes back to life.
And he was correct. The old European pagan faiths have not returned and never will.
What calls itself pagan today is something else entirely.


Originally posted by ishmael:
The ring is a form of idolatry then? As such, a symbol of the power of denying God, of attaching allegiance to a symbol. I like it. Sure itís a kind idolatry. I think it is like the original sin. Adam and Eveís sin was not just eating some generic fruit but of trying, through knowledge of good and evil, to be gods themselves. Trying to be a god does rather violate the, ďI am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.Ē commandment doesnít it? The Ring allegedly gives one godlike power. Of course what it really brings, like all sin, is slavery.


Originally posted by ishmael:
We have much to learn.
Yep. :D


Originally posted by ishmael:
Sam's is the best answer so far, even with its Catholic flaws.
Yeah, Tolkien had that flaw too! But what did he know?

ishmael
02-23-2003, 07:01 PM
It's a loose religious allegory signifying the vagueness of the line between beginning and end Say some more.

Rocky
02-23-2003, 07:13 PM
Interesting, Sam. A pagan story without gods combining with a Christian story without God, showing the continuity between the two. Satan made this very offer of easy power and riches to Jesus.

I reread it too not long ago, and it had lost some of its adolescent zing, but hey, so what? We were lucky to experience it at that age. I guess we could analyze it forever, but that would make it a Ulysses experience.

http://smilies.crowd9.com/cwm/cwm/puke.gif

(English professor at my school made a career of Ulysses, finally shot himself - can't blame him.)

[ 02-23-2003, 11:01 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

ishmael
02-23-2003, 07:15 PM
I doubt very much if he gave it a second thought. I bet Tolkien considered the old paganism dead and that there was no great risk of anyone fanning those ashes back to life.
And he was correct. The old European pagan faiths have not returned and never will.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. :D Paganism depends not on a central authority, and hence is possible anywhere, at any time. It's form is fluid, unmanageable. One of the reasons the organized church strove so hard to stamp it out.


I would prefer Christianity and Paganism reach a meeting place. The Christ, as well as the Devil, are present in each tree, each stream, each fish. To require otherwise is true idolatry.

Where is the god you see Sam?

Sam F
02-23-2003, 07:39 PM
Originally posted by ishmael:
[QUOTE]Wrong, wrong, wrong. :D Paganism depends not on a central authority, and hence is possible anywhere, at any time. It's form is fluid, unmanageable. One of the reasons the organized church strove so hard to stamp it out. No central authority? Tell that to the Pontifex Maximus. :D
But thatís not what I meant. Central authority is irrelevant to my point. The essential difference between todayís ďpagansĒ and those from ancient Rome or Greece is that the ancients had a yearning and striving for truth. That is the source of their awesome accomplishments.

Todayís so called pagans are the exact opposite. Instead of seeking truth they hide from it. They use paganism as a form of anesthesia to shield them from the pain of truth.
One of the new-age touchy feely types would run away screaming if they ever confronted the real thing. Can you imagine a neo-pagan acting as the Roman matron did, when she slowly starved her own daughter to death for sexual impropriety? Not a chance.



Originally posted by ishmael:
[QUOTE]
quote:

It's a loose religious allegory signifying the vagueness of the line between beginning and end

Say some more. You know Tokien was explicit in addressing this issue: the great stories never end.

Jack, I may have misunderstood you though. I thought you wanted understanding of LOTR.
Instead, I suspect that what you really want is an antidote.

ishmael
02-23-2003, 07:52 PM
Jack, I may have misunderstood you though. I thought you wanted understanding of LOTR.
Instead, I suspect that what you really want is an antidote Aw now, don't go gettin' flushed around the collar.

The notion that paganism/pantheism is lost without Greco-Roman authority, is absurd. Every child worth their salt is a pantheist, and many are pagans :D . It's why so much of Christianity has lost all meaning.

People have a capacity for meaning which always outstrips authority, and thank the gods for it.

So where do you see God Sam?

htom
02-23-2003, 08:10 PM
The usurption of power without responsibility, or some such.

ishmael
02-23-2003, 08:13 PM
BTW Donn, thanks for amplifying, you unrepentant Taoist. smile.gif There is a capacity for evil left unrequited in the philosophy, yet I've never heard it well spoken, so there you have it...

[ 02-23-2003, 08:17 PM: Message edited by: ishmael ]

Sam F
02-23-2003, 08:23 PM
Originally posted by ishmael:
[QUOTE]
The notion that paganism/pantheism is lost without Greco-Roman authority, is absurd.

So where do you see God Sam?Jack, You're missing the point. Can you honestly imagine today's neo-Pagans creating an Aristotle or building a Pantheon or constructing a cosmology that works? That is the absurd notion here.
And where do I see God? Haven't you figured that out yet? :D :D

Roger Stouff
02-23-2003, 08:27 PM
When Gerrolt asked Tolkien, "Is the book to be considered as an allegory?" the author replied, "No. I dislike allegory whenever I smell it."
Interview by Dennis Gerrolt; it was first broadcast in January 1971 on BBC Radio 4 program "Now Read OnÖ"

"There is no 'symbolism' or conscious allegory in my story. Allegory of the sort 'five wizards = five senses' is wholly foreign to my way of thinking. There were five wizards and that is just a unique part of history. To ask if the Orcs 'are' Communists is to me as sensible as asking if Communists are Orcs."
- J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter to Herbert Schiro - November 17, 1957

"It is a 'fairy-story' but one written--according to the belief I once expressed in an extended essay 'On Fairy-stories' that they are the proper audience--for adults. Because I think that fairy story has its own mode of reflecting 'truth', different from allegory, or (sustained) satire, or 'realism', and in some ways more powerful. But first of all it must succeed just as a tale, excite, please, and even on occasion move, and within its own imagined world be accorded (literary) belief. To succeed in that was my primary object."
- J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter to Michael Straight, New Republic editor - January 1956

ishmael
02-23-2003, 08:31 PM
Jack, You're missing the point. Can you honestly imagine today's neo-Pagans creating an Aristotle or building a Pantheon or constructing a cosmology that works? Absolutely. Given the kind of power requisite to build a Pantheon, I can imagine. Such power took us to the moon. You surely don't imagine that power was of the church.

edit: And I honestly don't know what you mean by 'today's neo-pagan'. Are you speaking of adolesecent men covering themselves in mud, chanting today's rubric?

[ 02-23-2003, 08:40 PM: Message edited by: ishmael ]

Rocky
02-23-2003, 08:42 PM
What is a Golem in Jewish folklore?

John Gearing
02-23-2003, 09:26 PM
The Lord of the Rings trilogy inhabits a deeper Tolkien universe. Sauron created all of the rings and distributed them, knowing that the humanoid races would not be able to resist the lure of the power the rings provide. The dark riders were once human kings in ancient times who chose to wield the rings and so became Sauron's slaves. We don't know from the trilogy where many of the rings are, though IIRC the lady Galadriel has one that maintains the magic of Lothlorien. Sauron himself has a master, a god who was cast down. And the wizards are sort of archangels as I recall.

There is a tremendous amount of background available in "The Silmarillion", which book chronicles the history of the Elves and gives quite a lot of background as to the supernatural beings involved in the stories. This is a fairly complex read, due to the fact that there were at least three different clans of Elves who came to what we know now as Middle-earth. The fact that Elves don't die unless killed in violence or via grieving means that the geneologies Tolkien runs down can get confusing, when someone 500 years old is having a conversation with his 20th generation descendant!

Another good book, I think, is called "The Tolkien Companion". I seem to remember that one of his goals with the trilogy was to give England a mythic storyline he felt it lacked. He didn't appear to have much respect for the old Celtic myths, and so turned more toward Northern European myths for inspiration.

I see some parallels, even if superficial, between some aspects of the trilogy and Zoroasterian (and Pre-Zoroaster Persian) myths. But this is not surprising, as this old religion provided many key concepts for both Judaism and Christianity.

ishmael
02-23-2003, 09:54 PM
I still think Sam, if I understand him, is closest. Hell, what do I know?

Idolatry.

Keith Wilson
02-23-2003, 10:21 PM
Oh, nice work, Sam F! Most folks forget that Tolkien was a very orthodox catholic, and that sensibility is very deep in the books, particularly the Silmarillion. He was, OTOH very allergic to allegory, as others have pointed out. I had the misfortune to read Lewis's Narnia series juat after reading LOTR, and the way Lewis plasters on the allegory with a trowel was so transparent and distasteful, even at age 13, that I could barely finish them.

A couple of minor points, within the context of the books: Sauron had no part in making the three elf-rings. These are uncorrupted, although they can be controllled by the one. Although the seven and the nine were made by the elven-smiths of Eregion, Sauron did have a hand in making them, hence their bad effects, particularly on men. The dwarves were less affected by the seven rings; the rings would only tend to increase their desire for gold and riches. They certainly didn't fade into wraiths.

The one ring contained a large chunk of Sauron's power, his spirit if you will, and it has a personality and will similar to his.

The inscription on the ring, although the letters are elvish, is in the black tongue, as follows:
Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!

And, finally, if you've seen the movies and haven't read the books, (including the Silmarillion) you have no idea what you're missing. Read them now.

[ 02-23-2003, 10:33 PM: Message edited by: Keith Wilson ]

Otter
02-24-2003, 02:30 AM
Rocky, Re: your question about Golem in jewish folklore.

The Golem was supposedly a man made out of clay by the Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague to protect sixteenth-century Jews from persecution. Its a story combines Jewish religion, black-magic and mysticism.

As for the rest of this thread all I can say is, Wow.. pretty heavy stuff for a bunch of boat jockeys.

Meerkat
02-24-2003, 04:16 AM
Ne∑o-Pa∑gan∑ism (n-pg-nzm)
n.
Any of various religious movements arising chiefly in the United Kingdom and the United States in the late 20th century that combine worship of pagan nature deities, particularly of the earth, with benign witchcraft.

Actually, wicca and neo-paganism got their start in the 1920's and 30's (perhaps more generously between 1890 and 1938). Despite unfounded claims to the contrary, mainly it is constructed of whole cloth, with it's chief component being a vivid imagination about how the ancients might have believed/prayed/ritualized, combined with a few nubbins from history. The facts of pagan belief and ritual are lost in time except for the few nubbins alluded to (Diana the huntress (borrowed from the Greek?), the horned god, mistletoe, the 4 seasonal (equinox, solstice) holidays (of which we really only know the names and a smattering of the significance) etc.). I guess it's safe to say that they really got widely popular towards the last quarter of the 20th century, perhaps aided by LOTR, Hippies and LSD ;)

Alan D. Hyde
02-24-2003, 10:43 AM
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. Oxford dons tend to be remarkably learned; the atmosphere of the place is a big help.

For example, my senior tutor, Dudley Richards, knew 27 languages fluently, and learned a new one each year as a hobby. He had a double-first from Cambridge, in Arabic and in History, and had learned classic guitar from John Williams. He was also an excellent baritone, was married to a beautiful and charming wife, Nancy, and they had an equally charming and beautiful daughter.

Yet he owned no house or auto, and made his way about Oxford on a dilapidated old black bicycle. Ideas were all he cared about, and all that his friends cared about. Eating three meals a day with such people was in itself instructive, akin to hanging out with a pack of Samuel Johnson's.
Each read widely and deeply, and each learned from the others through lively conversation and dispute. This was the world in which Tolkien lived and moved.

Read some sagas: Grettir's saga is a good one with which to begin.

Tolkien built a mythical world, much as many others might build a model railroad layout. It was his hobby. High Episcopalians, Anglo-Catholics, and traditional Catholicism hold much in common. All of them have more in common with our forbearers than do the agnostic and amoral worldlings who produce much of what is called "popular culture."

Alan

ishmael
02-24-2003, 11:12 AM
Tolkien built a mythical world, much as many others might build a model railroad layout. Yes, well, a knower of the power of imagination, I wonder what the train set is. What was the man trying to tell us; we stooped and poor listeners?

I still like Sam's answer best. Idolatry. And what is that? A measuring of reality without God, without a genuine sense of the sacred.

The most vivid memories of Tolkien's writing for me are when we see what has become of the Shire, and are impelled, with Merry and Pippin, newly emboldened--made stronger and larger by Treebeard's draughts--to scourge.

[ 02-24-2003, 11:17 AM: Message edited by: ishmael ]

Ken Hall
02-24-2003, 01:27 PM
Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (a title provocative by calculation), spends a great deal of time on the concept of evil in LOTR. Specifically, is the evil Boethian (caused by our weakness and alienation from God) or is it Manichaean (dualist, with a creative power for evil equal to that of good/God)?

There appear to be elements of both strains; in fact, there apparently must be for the story to hold together. The great peril of the Ring is that it works by temptation: Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Faramir* each in turn must reject the Ring. Gandalf's rejection in fact is explicit:

"Do not tempt me! For I shall have need of such power. Yet over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more terrible. For the way of the Ring to my heart is through pity--pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good...." (That's from memory**, and may be a bit garbled, but I think it's factually accurate)

Even Sam has his moment of temptation (Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age), but he's got more than enough plain hobbit sense to know it for what it is and reject it in favor of "the one small garden of a free gardener." (Of all the characters, I think the filmakers have done the best work with Sam, even more than with Gandalf.) Bilbo, after a long period, was beginning to succumb to the Ring. He lasted as long as he did because hobbits are naturally "tough in the fibre" and because he had no real will to power.

The temptation of the Ring is the Boethian element, in Shippey's argument. Yet the Ring itself seems to have some will in these matters. It seduces Isildur enough to prevent him casting the it into the nearby Sammath Naur after he cuts it from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil: "This I will have as weregild for my father...." Later, as Gandalf relates, he writes of it in a scroll he found in the archives at Minas Tirith: "But as for me I will suffer no hurt to this thing: of all Sauron's works the only fair. It is precious (emphasis mine) to me though I buy it with great pain."

Later yet the Ring betrays Isildur by slipping from his hand as he swam away from the disaster at the Gladden Fields. It abandons Gollum as its master's power begins to wax again, trying to return to his summons (remember "Verily I come, I come unto you" at the high seat on Amon Hen? I always thought that was the Ring itself "speaking.")

And clearly, there is still Mordor to be reckoned with, even without the Ring.

In the end, both the Boethian and Manichaean lines are necessary. If the power of evil is through temptation/corruption alone, the West could have given the Ring to Bombadil and have done with it. If all they needed to do was "win the war," to beat the bad guys, anyone could have been the Ring-bearer. Gandalf could've flown it to Mount Doom on eagle-back.

Of the two threads, the Boethian appears to be the stronger ("The Power that bred them can only mock, it cannot make"), but there is a Power just the same...and thus there is an obligation to do something about it other than just waiting for Providence to take care of it.

Those who have pointed out here that Tolkien doesn't do allegory are correct, but it's worth mentioning that when writing the scene at the Sammath Naur in Return of the King he specifically had in mind the last three clauses of the Lord's Prayer (Forgive us our tresspasses/Lead us not into temptation/Deliver us from evil). Shippey had access to Tolkien's correspondence, and cited a letter for that assertion. The book's at home, and I'm not, alas.

*My only real quibble with the films so far is the portrayal of Faramir. In the books he's so noble it makes your hair hurt, which is his charm. The actor who portrays him looks like a dimbulb, too.

**Full disclosure dept: I read LOTR about once a year or every other year, and have done since high school. I read it for the diamond-brilliant beauty of the language, and for the continuing relevance of the moral lessons. I often reread The Winds of War and War and Remembrance for much the same reasons.

George Roberts
02-24-2003, 01:44 PM
J.R.R. Tolkien was driven by his demons - those he thought were his equals or betters.

His way out out was to write.

You have no hope of understanding his work unless you are driven by your demons.

If you are driven by deamons, you will realize it was only his way to deal with his deamons.

Pray you have no deamons.

ishmael
02-24-2003, 05:47 PM
You fine gentle-folk almost always please me, and often amaze. Thank you, all of you.

Dennis Marshall
02-24-2003, 07:48 PM
Ken Hall, thank you for that education. I studied under a professor of moral theology that read the Hobbit and Trilogy every year for (at that time) 20 years. He always got something new out of it, he told me.

Your appreciation for Sam in the movie puzzles me. Sam is my favorite character in all of the books, and I think that he is made of sterner stuff than the movie portrays. Ach! But that is my frustration at this particular media's failure to communicate in any substantial way the substance of Sam's character.

I am going to have to check out the Shippey text on Tolkein.

Thanks again,

Dennis

Andrew Craig-Bennett
02-24-2003, 07:53 PM
Tolkien was setting out, just as Milton did, to give us English-speakers a national (in the linguistic sense) epic, along the lines of the Iliad or the Aeneid. He was indeed an orthodox Catholic and he makes both these points clear in the letter quoted in the introduction to the "Silmarillion".

The artistic power of the work stems from the reader being presented, in the foreground, so to speak, with a fully-realised fragment of a much greater cycle of myths, some of which are sketched in very lightly. Just as well, because some of his prose and his dialogue has been cruelly, but accurately, labelled "Cod Wagnerian".

The Ring is Temptation - it offers the classic temptations - absolute power on Earth and immortality, at the cost of its wearer's soul. Frodo is a Faust who is redeemed by the quality of mercy ("Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand....")

Rocky
02-25-2003, 05:56 PM
Since some Vikings ended up settling in northern Britain, there is a Norse strain in Britannic lore. Archeologists recently uncovered the remains of fighters from a savage battle that took place sometime in the late 900s! Interestingly there was a decisive battle in Anglia, I believe, the same year, 1066, as the Norman conquest in the south.

Sam F
02-25-2003, 06:24 PM
Originally posted by Rocky:
Since some Vikings ended up settling in northern Britain, there is a Norse strain in Britannic lore. Archeologists recently uncovered the remains of fighters from a savage battle that took place sometime in the late 900s! Interestingly there was a decisive battle in Anglia, I believe, the same year, 1066, as the Norman conquest in the south.Check out the Sutton Hoo ship burial in E. Anglia. It's a 7th century Anglo Saxon royal burial site and shows evidence of a lot of interaction and trading between the Northmen and England.
Sutton Hoo (http://csis.pace.edu/grendel/projs4a/sutton.htm)

Andrew Craig-Bennett
02-25-2003, 06:42 PM
I can see it from my bedroom window.

Here is another website devoted to Sutton Hoo:

http://www.wuffings.co.uk/

which has some good links to others, including the Tolkien Society website.

I crewed on the half sized replica of the Sutton Hoo ship, Sae Wylfing, last year, and wrote a report here - she sails extremely well.

It is now widely thought that the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf was written at the Wuffing court at Rendlesham, although the action takes place in Sweden and Denmark. The village of Grundisburgh, inland from here, is named after the water monster, Grendel whom Beowulf slays, and the bones of St Botolph, who founded the monastery at Iken, were translated to Burgh, adjacent to Grundisburgh, to exorcise a water monster, who was living in the Bronze Age hill fort there, in the Seventh century.

Harold Godwinsson, last Saxon King of England, defeated Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway and the last Viking invader of Britain, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which is near York, then force marched South with his house carls, covering thirty miles a day, to meet William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy - he was, of course, defeated - at the Battle of Hastings, a few days later.

At University I and doubtless several others here had to read JRR Tolkien's edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...which is quite hard work, and does not inspire me to ruch out and buy his edition of Beowulf.

[ 02-25-2003, 06:52 PM: Message edited by: Andrew Craig-Bennett ]

Rocky
02-25-2003, 07:12 PM
I think those remains were from that battle, about 5 miles south of where they had been looked for previously.

The Viking invasions were partly compelled by events in Europe in the 800s and 900s, and surely played a role in the Norman conquest as well.

Was Godwinsson's army the main defense force? You know, this ticks me off. Nothing I ever read or heard about the Norman conquest ever bothered to mention the other war up north! What's the point in studying such an event so totally out of context? How many books on the Salem witch trials, for example, even mention they occurred at a time of violent Indian raids in western Massachusetts (Queen Anne's War?)? Story of my life as a student - years later I stumble upon something and say geez, wasn't that relevant?

[ 02-25-2003, 10:01 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

Andrew Craig-Bennett
02-25-2003, 07:35 PM
A Bronze Age man buried near, and contemporary with, Stonehenge, (c. 2,300 BC) known as the Amesbury Archer, the oldest burial in Britain in which metal objects are found with the body, was, according to an analysis of his bones and tooth enamel, born and brought up in Switzerland.

http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/amesbury/archer.html

And a sizeable ship of the same date has been excavated at Dover. Our forebears got around, and cannot be studied in isolation!

ishmael
02-25-2003, 07:38 PM
And let's not forget ergot infested rye as one possible source of the 'witchery'.

I hadn't been aware of the 'Indian' war connection, though I used to live in that neck of the woods, right off the Mohawk trail. All those towns, ending in 'field', Greenfield, Springfield, etc, were the centers of agriculture--and general culture. There are fields in that region that have been under contiuous cultivation basically forever.

Largely decimated by disease, the towns were subsumed by the Anglos, with a relatively minor amount of warfare. If it weren't for smallpox et al there might never have been a Plymouth colony.

Rocky
02-25-2003, 08:26 PM
You don't mind if your thread meanders do you? The pilgrims found whole towns depopulated, didn't they? The hell with ergot-infested rye, some of the accusers in the trials had experienced real atrocities in your area. Someone postulated a few years back that the number of Indians who died from introduced diseases was much larger than originally thought. Essentially the whole continent was depopulated from the eastern shores - South America too. All it took in one case was one shipwrecked sailor with measles. A traveller in the 1700s passed through a very large city on the Mississippi - about ten years later he passed through again and reported nothing there at all. Guess that proved God was on our side!

And that 5000-year-old man found in the Alps lived on the edge of a lake, fished in his boat, traded, hung out, travelled, no ESPN but not such a bad life.

[ 02-25-2003, 08:45 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

ishmael
02-25-2003, 08:53 PM
You don't mind if your thread meanders do you? Not at all. The original question seems to have run its lovely course. New thoughts always welcome. :D

I had a friend in MA who was an amateur archeologist, as well as fancying himself a 'Native American'. No offense Roger, but he had as much Indian blood as Martha Stewart.

There was a road work happening in Greenfield, near my home, and he was spearheading the need to do archeology.

The issue of the past. What a ripe screen for projections, and maunderings.

Rocky
02-25-2003, 09:32 PM
I know a few of those Indians, too, one named deBartolo. Sets up a teepee in his yard when he's not watching WWF Smackdown!

I was on a Chariots of the Gods kick a while ago, reading some guy who was trying to prove the pyramids predated the Egyptians - not very successfully. But his thesis - that the great flood coincided with the end of the last Ice Age, and there may have been survivors who sailed the earth providing the genesis for ancient civilizations - certainly can't be disproven. We have no idea what happened anywhere more than 5000 years ago. Just as I was getting tired of this another book came out by an Englishman who lived on a remote island in the Hebrides. He reported a local fisherman hauled up a bronze chestplate of unknown origin and age, in an area that has been underwater for at least 10,000 years. Part of the appeal of LOR is that it incorporates all of us, living and dead, back into the mists of time - provides a mystical connection, so to speak, with those who lived so long before we will never know anything about them.

[ 02-25-2003, 09:44 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

ishmael
02-25-2003, 09:40 PM
As I understand it, we've been rambling around in our current form for about 100,000 years. Maybe two. Yet our memory gets fuzzy past about five hundred.

Where's my time machine? It was here just a moment ago. smile.gif