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Old 11-25-2003, 06:25 AM   #121
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As a matter of fact, I think that the popularity of the device seen in the friendship between Legolas and Gimli stems largely from the fact that it is an effective device. Alas, such easily recognizable and easily implemented devices are often used as a desparate measure by poor writers. But that does not diminish the effectiveness of the technique itself.
I quite agree with the last sentence. Where we differ is that I think I have seen made for TV movies with 'odd-buddy relationships' that have more characterisation that Legolas & Gimli.

Hell, I may even have seen Chuck Norris movies with deeper and better characterisation!
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Old 11-25-2003, 10:48 AM   #122
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The idea I am getting from this discussion is that part of the analysis of "psychological depth" of certain characters or in general under consideration is really Tolkien's ability to create a believable conflict and then to resolve that conflict believably and neatly within a larger framework, i.e., his story is crafted with several levels of internal logic that the individual characters fit into without seeming contrived.

Lord of Angmar's case in point with Aragorn made me think of it this way. The facts are presented slowly, and we see the conflict of Aragorn's character through his position in the story. This conflict is drawn in the exposition, an external conflict--his history and his goal. Tolkien shows, by observation of Aragorn's small actions and suggestion, the internalization of his attempts to realize this goal under circumstance that test him sorely and the struggle is shown in the delay in making the choice. The fact that some of his choices are made for him speaks to a certain serendipitous quality in Tolkien's writings that I do not equate with coincidence but some do. The fact that Frodo's departure is so well foreshadowed but still a surprise and an unlooked-for aid to Aragorn's decision is merely an external method of resolving Aragorn's inner conflict. His is pushed onto his path. I don't see that as making his understood internal conflict any less deep; indeed it takes on a sort of tragic note, as Aragorn is, in his spirit, still torn in two, and his path remains unclear.

I think this conflict/resolution idea may serve to draw implied psychological depth through the imparting of the knowledge of the conflict and the struggle to resolve it in the reader's mind. There is no way I could have felt the depth of internal conflict (well, despair, really) at the sight of the Morgul-Host if the scenes between Frodo and Faramir had not drawn the situation so keenly in my mind--the conflict, already known from Frodo and Sam's POV, now amplified through Faramir and the Rangers of the South. The conflict is tied together, the connection between Frodo and Faramir is drawn as that of two soldiers, both marching to what appears to be certain doom, but march they must.

I hope this post makes sense and illustrates my point adequately. Thanks again for your indulgence!

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Old 11-25-2003, 11:31 AM   #123
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Where we differ is that I think I have seen made for TV movies with 'odd-buddy relationships' that have more characterisation that Legolas & Gimli.
Actually, I quite agree with you.

Where we still differ (I think) is in this: I tink that the buddy movies you refer to typically rest wholly upon the "odd friendship" relationship. If this is to be the whole point of the story, then it must be really well done. It is most often not. Also, such movies typically suffer from other problems - like poor writing, poor direction, etc.

Now in The Lord of the Rings the odd friendship motive is about as far from being the center of the story as it could be. It is not as well developed because it does not need to be. Tolkien doesn't pick up a single, commonly used device and base the whole book on it.

To me it seems that criticizing the Legolas-Gimli relationship for not being more fully explored is rather like criticizing a movement from a Mozart symphony for not having a long enough development section. Yes, for some - like Haydn or Beethoven - the development is of central importance and much of the strength of the movement lies therein. For Mozart it is simply a technique used to pass from exposition to recapitulation. And in that capacity, it works perfectly.

This is also where I think it's useful to bear in mind Card's point. Those buddy movies are surely character-driven. So it's not unjustified to demand that they really deliver on the characterization. But Tolkien's works have a lot more to offer than a single "odd couple" type relationship.
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Old 11-25-2003, 06:14 PM   #124
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Lord of Angmar, you analysis of Aragorn and the mental journey that he undergoes in LotR certainly shows that there is a psychological element to his characterisation. But then this is true of virtually all characters in any novel. All characters exist on a psychological level to some degree or other.

Aragorn has psychological depth in the sense that there is some depth to his psychology. But does it make him psychologically deep? My view is that it does not. Sure, he is troubled by uncertainty and overcomes this, becoming mentally stronger. This mental development is necessary for the purposes of the story, since he needs to become the strong, self-assured figure that he we see regaining his throne at the end. But I don't see that we really gain any great understanding of his psyche in all this. We see the development of one aspect of it, but that, to my mind, does not make him a psychologically deep character.

I realise that I am straying back into the dangerous area of differing definitions here. But, if we are seeking to determine whether Aragorn is a character who is distinguishable by reason of his psychological depth, which I think is what Pullman was getting at in saying that Tolkien's characters lack psychological depth, then I do not think that we can say that he is. He is no more psychologically developed than a great many other characters in a great many other novels.

If, on the other hand, we are simply seeking to identify the psychological aspects of Aragorn's character (which is worthy in itself, but not I think what Pullman had in mind), then your analysis is an excellent one. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Much the same goes for Legolas and Gimli, save that I see them as being far less psychologically developed, even than Aragorn. I agree with what you say, Aiwendil. The relationship between these two characters is a nice little story, but it is tangential to the main plot. It links in with the theme of friendship, but it is not central to that theme. And so, their characters are developed only to the extent than they need to be. As you say, that is not a criticism. But I find it difficult to see how they can be said to be particularly well-developed characters, let alone ones with any great degree of psychological depth.
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Old 11-25-2003, 09:44 PM   #125
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I agree with most of the content of your post, Saucepan Man. I do feel, though, that Mr. Pullman's own critique of Professor Tolkien is rather flawed (if Pullman's aforementioned remarks are to be taken as criticisms of Tolkien's work). That is not to say that the characters in Professor Tolkien's novels are the quintessential psychologically "deep" characters, but it is to say that they should not necessarily be so. Professor Tolkien did not approach the novel as a venture into the human psyche, but rather as a grandiose epic, and having thus approached it, it is rather unfair for a critic to approach it from an entirely different angle in his criticism. An epic is designed to take its reader on an expansive journey, and although it is the part of the writer to make readers care about the characters and their endeavours in his writing, it is not necessarily the epic writer's part to indulge in deeper psychoanalysis or to delve into the internal fastnesses of his characters' ids and egos. That does not seem to me to be the reason for epic writing. Having said, that, I have no problem with Mr. Pullman's claim that Professor Tolkien's epic lacks "depth" of psychology. I simply see it as a general statement rather than a pointed criticism.
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Old 11-26-2003, 04:00 AM   #126
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I thoroughly agree, Lord of Angmar. As Lush said the very forst page of this thread:

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I mean, it shouldn't matter if Aragorn will never be as psychologically deep as King Lear.
As I have indicated previously, I personally feel that some of Tolkien's characters are developed psychologically to a greater extent than Pullman gives them credit for. But the fact that others are not is not, as I see it, a ground for criticism, since Tolkien was not seeking to write that kind of novel. As I said back on page two:

Quote:
Now, as many have pointed out, that is not necessarily a criticism of Tolkien. Perhaps the word “lack” is slightly emotive, suggesting as it does that there is something lacking in Tolkien’s works. But, going back to littlemanpoet’s quote from the book by Orson Scott Card, it is fair to say that Tolkien was not writing a character driven novel. The fact that he does not imbue each of his characters with immense psychological depth cannot therefore be a failing, for that is not what he was setting out to achieve.
Although, to be fair to Pullman, I don't, on reflection, think that he was levelling a general criticism at LotR. I think that he was simply saying that there is insufficient psychological depth in the characters for his taste. Which is a perfectly valid comment to make.
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Old 11-29-2003, 12:27 PM   #127
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I really don't see that the quotation from which this thread is derived really tells us enough about Pullman's opinion to admit a detailed examination of it. Every so often a thread begins that is based on a quotation from a newspaper, and each time it is mentioned at least once that journalists thrive on controversy, and will do whatever they can to get interviewees to say something juicy. I think that the problem with defining what is meant here by 'depth' is that we have no exposition of Pullman's opinion (as is only to be expected, since Tolkien was probably only mentioned because Pullman writes fantasy). He could mean almost anything by 'psychological depth': he might be talking about an absence of psychological detail, or he might be suggesting that Tolkien's characters are cardboard cut-outs that are pushed around the chess-board of his novel with little regard to how any of the story affects them. The problem with his statement is that it does not come from a considered argument but a fairly casual conversation. Pullman would probably have been much more careful to define his terms had he been attempting to present his opinion for debate, because without that detailed definition we cannot see what he really means.

Even when we ourselves talk about depth, we seem unsure of what we mean. Although I see unexplored depths implied in many of the characters who have been put forward as 'paper-thin', I am not looking for exhaustive detail and exploration when I look for depth. For me the author just has to show that there is more to the character than what appears on the surface. Detailed journeys through a character's mind are inappropriate in a work of very wide physical or temporal scope unless one wants to write the sort of book more suited to weightlifting than reading. I try to imagine The Lord of the Rings with long stream-of-consciousness passages à la Virginia Woolfe and I see twelve or more volumes, in which the story is constantly derailed by unnecessary exposition.

In any case, exposition was not Tolkien's way. What moved him in literature is well demonstrated by his comments on Beowulf in his introduction to the revised Clark-Hall translation:
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The poet who spoke these words saw in his thought the brave men of old walking under the vault of heaven upon the island earth beleaguered by the Shoreless Seas and the outer darkness, enduring with stern courage the brief days of life , until the hour of fate when all things should perish, leoht and lif samod. But he did not say all this fully or explicitly. And therein lies the unrecapturable magic of ancient English verse for those who have ears to hear: profound feeling, and poignant vision, filled with the beauty and mortality of the world, are aroused by brief phrases, light touches, short words resounding like harp-strings sharply plucked.
What Tolkien admired in Old-English verse was what he saw as its ability to achieve through hint and nuance an impression of depths left purposefully unexplored by its author. The real question is the extent to which he succeeded in his attempt to emulate it. We must ask not whether there is detailed exploration of characters' thoughts and motivations, but whether we can infer from what he tells us that there is more to them than appears on the surface. It is my opinion that he does succeed, and that his approach to characterisation is the same as his approach to historical detail: he thought through what each of his main characters would be like and then revealed what he needed to reveal for the purposes of telling his story. For me, an explicit journey into Aragorn's head would be like Elrond going into a detailed description of Túrin's nature and deeds when he mentions him at the end of The Council of Elrond. Why bother, Tolkien appears to think, when one can show the reader what they need to know to understand the character as the narrative unfolds?

Consider the following passages:
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Strider sighed and paused before he spoke again. 'That is a song,' he said, 'in the mode that is called ann thennath among the Elves, but it is hard to render in our Common Speech, and this is but a rough echo of it. It tells of the meeting of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel. Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was the daughter of Thingol, a King of Elves upon Middle-earth when the world was young; and she was the fairest maiden that has ever been among all the children of this world. As the stars upon the mists of the Northern Lands was her loveliness, and in her face was a shining light.
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As Strider was speaking they watched his strange eager face, dimly lit in the red glow of the wood-fire. His eyes shone and his voice was rich and deep.
In a dark moment, Aragorn sees the need for a story that will raise the spirits of his companions; and what passage is it that he quotes but the meeting of Beren and Lúthien? We have not yet met Arwen in the narrative, and Tolkien is purposefully keeping her relationship with Strider a secret. He could not refer to her using internal methods without spoiling the surprise, but later we find that Aragorn's first words to Arwen were those of Beren to Lúthien; that she was the living image of Tinúviel, and that her father, too is a great lord among the Elves. This speaks volumes for Aragorn's eager face and shining eyes. It explains perfectly why he has chosen this of all poems to recite to his companions; but we do not know this at the time. There is something more than just an appreciation of Elven literature in the scene, but we do not know what it is until we see Aragorn with Arwen later. An internal passage would draw the reader's attention from the reaction of the hobbits and reveal that which the author does not want to reveal; but with this method we can look back later and see that the meeting of Beren and Lúthien has a deep significance for Aragorn. We are in the same position as the hobbits who are our arbiters with the world of Middle-earth: we can sense that there is something more to the scene than meets the eye, but there is an air of mystery about it. If Aragorn were emotionally or psychologically shallow there would be nothing to see. He would simply be demonstrating his own knowledge of poetry at a singularly inappropriate moment. As it is, his quotation is a window on his soul.

To return to the example of Húrin raised above, Eurytus is quite right to tell us that the fact that Húrin kills seventy trolls tells us nothing about him other than that he was fairly handy with an axe. This argument, however, fails utterly to address the matter of the circumstances and more specifically Húrin's choice of words as he fights (those factors that are actually relevant to a discussion of characterisation). In the Silmarillion we are told, firstly, the counsel of war between the leading survivors as the battle turns to disaster.

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Then Húrin spoke to Turgon, saying: 'Go now, lord, while time is! For in you lives the last hope of the Eldar, and while Gondolin stands Morgoth shall know fear in his heart.'
But Turgon answered: 'Not long now can Gondolin be hidden; and being discovered it must fall.'
Then Huor spoke and said: 'Yet if it stands but a little while, then out of your house shall come the hope of Elves and Men. This I say to you, lord, with the eyes of death: though we part here forever, and I shall not look on your white walls again, from you and from me a new star shall arise. Farewell!'
And Maeglin, Turgon's sister-son, who stood by, heard these words, and did not forget them; but he said nothing.
This passage is interesting as it explains more precisely just what Húrin is trying to achieve in his last stand with Huor; but it also gives us a foreshadowing of the conflict between Tuor and Maeglin and the circumstances of the Fall of Gondolin. Maeglin's silence speaks volumes because it seems so unnecessary to the plot. What does it matter what Turgon's nephew heard, and what he did or did not choose to say? The battle is lost; the armies must try to escape. Only later do we find out about Maeglin's unrequited love for Idril, which would give him pause for thought at Huor's words.

We are then told that the men of Dor-lómin volunteer to fight a rearguard action that can only end in their destruction. We are told their motivation, but we have already seen that Huor and Húrin already have cause for hope: not for themselves, but for their cause.

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But the men of Dor Lómin held the rearguard, as Húrin and Huor desired; for they did not wish in their hearts to leave the Northlands, and if they could not win back to their homes, there they would stand to the end. Thus was the treachery of Uldor redressed; and of all the deeds of war that the fathers of Men wrought on behalf of the Eldar, the last stand of the men of Dor-lómin is most renowned.
This puts Húrin's words as he fights the trolls into a context that the reader can understand. Without the earlier build-up to this crisis, his words would make less sense (although they would be no less heroic for that). Facing what seems certain death, Húrin has his mind set only on the future and what his actions will achieve. His own fate is sealed and he draws inspiration from his certainty that what he is doing will play its part in final victory: "Aurë entuluva: day shall come again." Not just the physical dawn that is coming as he fights, but a dawn ending the night of Morgoth's domination.

This is what I think Tolkien meant when he spoke of gentle touches revealing a writer's intentions. Húrin's words are an echoing of the same northern heroic spirit that is present in Beorhtwald's famous lines from The Battle of Maldon:
Quote:
Hige sceal Þe heardra, heorte Þe cenre,
mod sceal Þe mare Þe ure maegen lytlað


('Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater as our strength lessens')
It refers to an entire mode of thinking that was as familiar to Tolkien as it was to the author of The Battle of Maldon more than seven-hundred years earlier. Men facing death in this milieu are not thinking about the final end, but of how they will behave as it approaches. Húrin's thoughts are plain to those with eyes to see, but his actual ability to kill seventy trolls, while in itself remarkable, is irrelevant in any other sense save as a means to bring him alive before Morgoth. In this scene, even more than in that involving Aragorn mentioned above, an internal dialogue or other journey through the man's psyche would break up the action, drawing attention away from other elements in the plot. It is enough that Húrin's motives and feelings are visible, and there is no need further to elaborate. "Brief phrases, light touches".

Even with Legolas and Gimli, presented by some as 'paper-thin' and a poor substitute for the Odd Couple, I think that it requires a considerably insensitive reading of their scenes to come to that conclusion. Yes, their relationship with one another is a simple friendship, but it serves its narrative purpose without interfering with the plot. Quite a large part of that purpose was, in my opinion, to demonstrate that if we will only open our minds a little the rewards may be immmense. Of course it is a minor plot-line, with much less significance than Frodo, Sam and Gollum's journey or the fall of Saruman and Denethor; but though it is minor, and given the detail appropriate to a minor part of the story, I feel that to describe the characters themselves as 'paper-thin' is again to overlook subtleties of expression in the text.

Legolas and Gimli are not closely-drawn characters, but it is still possible to infer without external reference their thoughts, their motivations and their emotions. Gimli particularly is inclined to wear his heart on his sleeve, as we see when the Fellowship discuss the road ahead in Hollin:
Quote:
'I need no map,' said Gimli, who had come up with Legolas, and was gazing out before him with a strange light in his deep eyes. 'There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and stone, and into many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathûr.
'Only once have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue.
Look at Gimli's reaction to seeing this place that resonates so deeply with the dreams of his people. He has seen the peaks 'once in waking life': he could as easily say 'Only once have I seen them' and leave it at that, but he goes on to imply that here is something that he has seen in his dreams a thousand times. This emotional reaction is typical of him. He repeats it in Lothlórien in his scenes with Galadriel, and we see it again when he has his first glimpse of the Glittering Caves. His conversation with Legolas as they leave Lothlórien reveals depths to each character that are not admitted by the 'paper-thin' argument:
Quote:
The travellers now turned their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Gimli wept openly.
'I have looked the last upon that which was fairest,' he said to Legolas. 'Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.'
He put his hand to his breast.
'Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not forsee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!'
'Nay!' said Legolas. 'Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. But I count you blessed, Gimli son of Glóin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.'

'Maybe,' said Gimli; 'and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless; yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves.
'But let us talk no more of it. Look to the boat! She is too low in the water with all this baggage, and the Great River is swift. I do not wish to drown my grief in cold water!'
Is this the conversation of two characters without depth? It takes little imagination to see in Legolas' words the pity of the Elves' relations with other races. The mortals move on and leave, but the Elves are trapped within the world, unchanging and unable to follow. The most beautiful of their creations are destroyed, and they live to see most triumph turn back to disaster. Legolas speaks with the voice of experience. He has had many years to learn that we cannot hold on to the world; but Gimli is feeling for the first time the pain that the Elves feel at the passing away of beautiful things: a pain that they live with daily, and must overcome in bringing about the fall of Sauron. Even for one whose memory is like waking life, memory is not enough, and it is telling that Legolas never claims that it is. What he says is that an unstained memory is a great gift, and he has already implied that memory is what everything must eventually become. Who among the Fellowship is so well-placed as he to know this? This is a conversation about very profound thoughts, and if the characters are talking about them, they must also be thinking them. They might be talking about Lórien on the surface, but on a deeper level they are talking about the very relationship between experience and memory. This seems to indicate as well as anything that there is more to Gimli than a solid Dwarven miner and more to Legolas than the woodland prince. It may not come out often, but it is there; and we need to know that it is there if we are to feel for those characters at all.

Returning to Philip Pullman's comment that sparked off this whole furore: I agree entirely with Saucepan that it is his opinion, expressed and valid as such. Tolkien's characterisation is clearly not satisfying to Pullman, and this is neither a positive nor a negative reflection on him as a reader. Child said it very well when she said that there is too much of Tolkien in Tolkien's characters for some people. If one thinks as Tolkien does, this will cause his characters to resonate deeply; if, as in the case of Pullman, one's mind works differently, the same characters may seem undeveloped and thin. I do not share W.H. Auden's opinion, dismissed by Tolkien, that The Lord of the Rings can be used as a measure of literary taste. It is a deeply individual work, and like all things of great individuality it can be as off-putting for some as it is attractive for others. This is as true of the characterisation as it is of the language employed or the themes explored, and it is something that cannot leave anyone objectively in the right or the wrong. Pullman is entitled to talk about a lack of psychological depth because it is clearly his honest reaction to the book. He is not trying to convince us, but briefly explaining why he did not enjoy it; and in the context of an interview it seems to me that this is a reasonable line to take. Needless to say, though, I do not share his opinion.

[ 9:28 AM December 01, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 11-29-2003, 01:27 PM   #128
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I am not looking for exhaustive detail and exploration when I look for depth. For me the author just has to show that there is more to the character than what appears on the surface.
Agreed, not to mention that exhaustive detail and exploration leave much less to the imagination (and the opportunity to use one's imagination is often why one would choose to read Tolkien or other works of fantasy).
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Detailed journeys through a character's mind are inappropriate in a work of very wide physical or temporal scope
Quite right. Not all stories are written in the same fashion (and they certainly should not be read the same).
Quote:
We must ask not whether there is detailed exploration of characters' thoughts and motivations, but whether we can infer from what he tells us that there is more to them than appears on the surface.
The method of "detailed exploration" would seem to be in order when writing a biography. Tolkien's method of showing depth seems much more...how should I say it...skillful and artistic.

"Detailed exploration" is necessary to give a character depth only when- 1) the author is not talented enough to subtly show the depth through the character's words and actions or 2) the reader is not talented enough to pick up on textual clues or come to any sort of conclusion without the author specifically telling them to.

Now, before you think I have offended other authors (or readers) with my statement note that I did not say detailed exploration did not have its uses. I am merely saying that it is not at all necessary to give a character depth.
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Old 11-29-2003, 11:37 PM   #129
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1) the author is not talented enough to subtly show the depth through the character's words and actions or 2) the reader is not talented enough to pick up on textual clues or come to any sort of conclusion without the author specifically telling them to.
Oh boy. I guess I'll try to grab an extra moment to burn my copy of Ulysses before I sprint down to the Duke English Department to let them know that "hey guys, the authors we're reading aren't talented enough."

Seriously, there is plenty of room to argue that Pullman had it wrong, but such broad-siding as above is making me break out in hives.

[ 12:38 AM November 30, 2003: Message edited by: Lush ]
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Old 11-30-2003, 07:48 PM   #130
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Way to read, Lush. You managed to skip over the first part of the statement that you quoted (skipped over it to the point that you didn't even include it in the quote) and you also managed to skip my last paragraph.

Here's the entire statement-
Quote:
"Detailed exploration" is necessary to give a character depth only when- 1) the author is not talented enough to subtly show the depth through the character's words and actions or 2) the reader is not talented enough to pick up on textual clues or come to any sort of conclusion without the author specifically telling them to.
Read it again. Notice the part at the beginning, particularly the word necessary. I said the detailed exploration method wasn't NECESSARY to give a character depth unless....

In other words, a good author can show depth through a character's actions and words. I did not say that an author couldn't use other ways.

Here's that last paragraph again-
Quote:
Now, before you think I have offended other authors (or readers) with my statement note that I did not say detailed exploration did not have its uses. I am merely saying that it is not at all necessary to give a character depth.
As you can see, there's no reason for the hives breakout.

I would apologize for being unclear- but I don't think that I was.
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Old 11-30-2003, 09:03 PM   #131
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Way to make me break out in more hives, Phantom. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

I don't want to get too far into the semantics of your previous statement, but unless I am completely misunderstanding your usage of "detailed exploration" and all that it implies, you are, in fact, insulting a huge chunk of what is considered to be great writing.

Then again, I don't want to be presumptuous.

Perhaps what you're insulting is the sort of writing that goes something like this:

"Jim felt that the existence of veggie burgers was intrinsically wrong in that it insulted the entire farm industry as he understood it. Though he did not realize it at the time, this emotion of mistrust toward veggie burgers stemmed from his suppressed feelings of lust for his 5th grade math teacher, who just happened to be a farmer's daughter. This emotion haunted him throughout his life and took on many forms of expression in his daily interactions with customers in the run-down diner in which he had been a server for over 5 years, his dreams of becoming champion in the tractor-race olympics being crushed after the recession hit the farming industry hard..."

Basically, I assume that you are expressing your disdain for writers that lay their cards out on the table and expect the big checks to roll in (as they often do, as one glance at the bestseller lists undoubtedly tells us).

But not all of detailed exploration works this way.

There, I hope I've made myself sufficiently clear. Now off to the druggist for some drugs for my hives.

[ 12:35 AM December 01, 2003: Message edited by: Lush ]
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Old 12-01-2003, 09:44 AM   #132
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You know what's funny? I'm listening to The Hives right now.
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but unless I am completely misunderstanding... insulting a huge chunk of what is considered to be great writing
Yes, you're completely misunderstanding.
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Basically, I assume that you are expressing your disdain for writers that lay their cards out on the table
Nope, I'm expressing my disdain for writers who are only able to give depth to their characters by laying all their cards on the table (since, like it or not, I believe that method to be less difficult and less artistic).

But more importantly I'm expressing my disdain for readers that are only able to see character depth if the author uses the "cards on the table" method.

(and by the way, I thought that little excerpt you gave was quite entertaining)
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Old 12-01-2003, 10:54 AM   #133
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Nope, I'm expressing my disdain for writers who are only able to give depth to their characters by laying all their cards on the table (since, like it or not, I believe that method to be less difficult and less artistic).
Whilst I agree with you that a writer who has to look into their characters' heads all the time in order to achieve depth probably won't make it into any list of great authors, I don't think that describing a character's thoughts is inherently any less artistic than other means of framing them.

Great novels use a subtle blend of various techniques to frame character: access to other characters' impressions of them, for example, or brief flashes of their own thoughts as well as their own words and actions (or lack of them). Really it's horses for courses. Tolkien wasn't trying to write a psychological study, but he was able to make his characters seem like real people. A quite different contemporary novel is Nineteen Eighty-Four, which explores themes of psychological manipulation. As such it makes sense to use the internal method of characterisation to a heightened degree. With Orwell's novel the reader needs direct access to the protagonist's thoughts, both because so many of his scenes are solitary ones and because we are intended to share his misery and horror. To show us a character's thoughts is a classic technique when we are intended to identify ourselves with that character. Jane Austen uses it in Pride and Prejudice to dupe the reader into sharing Elizabeth's opinions of Darcy and Wickham, the inaccuracy of which are part of the central theme of the novel. Stella Gibbons uses it in Cold Comfort Farm, completely transforming the dour and forbidding Starkadders into comic figures by giving us access to the heroine's impressions of them. Given a different auctorial slant, the same characters could form the cast of a tragedy.

Tolkien uses internal characterisation too: he shows us glimpses into the heads of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin at various times in the story, and this is because they share the role of Winston Smith in 1984 and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, that of mediator between the reader and the story (Tolkien needed more mediators because of the scale of his narrative). He uses the external method so extensively because we are intended to get to know all of the other characters through the hobbits. Why do we never see Sauron? Because none of the hobbits see Sauron and nobody who has describes him to them. Why do the Elves seem ethereal and mysterious? Because that's how they would seem to a hobbit. I doubt that an account by Gandalf would echo Sam's doting enthusiasm for all things Elven, but an angelic emissary would make a poor mediator given that the reader is intended not to have a comprehensive insight into the matters that are being described. Some people might prefer his viewpoint, but for that they would have to find a different writer. Tolkien would not have had the temerity to try to describe the workings of an angel's mind.

Incidentally: nice one, Lush. Very entertaining.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 6:21 AM December 06, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 12-01-2003, 02:21 PM   #134
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Whilst I agree with you that a writer who has to look into their characters' heads all the time in order to achieve depth probably won't make it into any list of great authors
Well said.
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I don't think that describing a character's thoughts is inherently any less artistic
I believe that it can be artistic (if it's done at the appropriate time with artistic language) but I still believe that when an author says "Mike is shy" he's being less creative and masterful than an author who shows Mike's shyness without explicitly saying it.

Of course there are exceptions (as there always are) when the obvious, in-your-face approach can be used for a specific purpose such as to explain a minor character's actions (since we don't know them well enough to grasp their personality) or to create a certain mood.

But again, my point was mainly about those authors and readers who only develop character through the tell-all method (and think that it's the only way). As far as those authors (like JRRT) who can develope character in less obvious ways, they're welcome to use any method they want (including the tell all) because they use it better (due to the fact that they use it for both development and effect).
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Old 12-01-2003, 07:42 PM   #135
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Old 12-01-2003, 08:06 PM   #136
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Quote:
I think that the problem with defining what is meant here by 'depth' is that we have no exposition of Pullman's opinion
My own view on what Pullman meant by "psychological depth" has been formed by reference to what I understand (from what others have said) to be his own style of writing, and the fact that he uses Gollum as an example of a character that he does consider to have psychological depth. It seems to me that he is talking about getting inside a character's head and understanding how they tick.

But you are right, Squatter. We cannot be certain what he meant. Nevertheless, it is still, I think, interesting to analyse the psychological depth of Tolkien's characterisation, however we may choose to define that term. My own analysis is by reference to my understanding of what Pullman meant by "psychological depth". But any analysis by reference to a different understanding of that term is equally valid, and will still help to cast light on Tolkien's style of characterisation. And I am certainly not seeking to restrict anyone here to sticking to my own understanding of the term, or even their understanding of what Pullman may have meant.

Quote:
Detailed journeys through a character's mind are inappropriate in a work of very wide physical or temporal scope unless one wants to write the sort of book more suited to weightlifting than reading.
Agreed. As I have said, I do not see it as a criticism of Tolkien that some of his principal characters lack (what I would consider to be) psychological depth. But, as I have also sought to explain, I nevertheless think that it is there in some of the characters.

Quote:
For me, an explicit journey into Aragorn's head would be like Elrond going into a detailed description of Túrin's nature and deeds when he mentions him at the end of The Council of Elrond. Why bother, Tolkien appears to think, when one can show the reader what they need to know to understand the character as the narrative unfolds?
Precisely. We learn exactly what we need to learn about Aragorn for the purposes of the story as the story develops. It gives him chracterisation, but I am still doubtful that it gives him any great psychological depth.

Your example of Aragorn singing of Beren and Luthien to the Hobbits, Squatter, does, I think give us some understanding of Aragorn's mind. However, such glimpses are rare. We do not get inside Aragorn's mind to the same extent that we do with, say, Sam or Gollum. But then we do not need to understand precisely what it is that he is thinking at every stage. Nor do we need to know exactly how he is analysing and reacting to every event as it unfolds. We learn just as much as we need in order to understand his role and significance within the story.

As for Hurin (and Huor) we can certainly understand from what they say at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad why it is that they fight the rearguard action to help Turgon and his host escape the battle. But I do not feel that this particular episode gives them any great psychological depth as characters. We can understand their motivation, but we do not really get into their minds any more than that. Again, we do not need to.

Having said that, however, I do feel that we gain a greater understanding of Hurin's state of mind during his subsequent interrogation and incarceration by Morgoth. We see his obdurate nature in his defiance and mockery of Morgoth and we can gain a sense of the emotional turmoil that he must have been going through, and the complete horror that he must have experienced on watching the systematic destruction of those nearest to him. Although we are never given any detailed exposition of his thoughts, we can understand why he is a broken man, and why he acts in the way that he does, when Morgoth finally releases him.

Interesting also that you mention Maeglin for I see him as character who holds greater psychological interest. Then again, that's harking back to my view that characters who are in turmoil in some way, or who are morally ambiguous, are the most interesting characters on a psychological level, which may (as has been suggested) simply be a matter of taste.

Turning to Legolas and Gimli, the passages that you have quoted, Squatter, are nice ones, and they do admittedly give us a glimpse of what these characters are thinking. Although perhaps they tell us more about the nature of their respective races, which is something that I think Tolkien was trying to achieve in his characterisation of Legolas and Gimli. Passages such as this do, of course give them some psychological depth. As you say:

Quote:
we need to know that it is there if we are to feel for those characters at all.
But, as you also say, it does not come out often. And so, I cannot see these two characters as being distinguished by their psychological depth. They are not greatly developed as characters (in comparison to other characters in the story), save as representatives of their respective races, but, again, they do not need to be.

Quote:
If one thinks as Tolkien does, this will cause his characters to resonate deeply; if, as in the case of Pullman, one's mind works differently, the same characters may seem undeveloped and thin.
I think that this takes us back to characterisation on a more general level. Clearly, Tolkien's characters resonate with all of us here, otherwise we would not be here. If we did not care about the characters, we would not care about their story. But I don't think that they necessarily require any great psychological depth for us to resonate with them.

In addition, of course, we will all resonate to varying degrees with different characters in Tolkien's works. Some will identify more with those characters that are drawn with greater psychological depth (in the sense that I am using that term). Others will prefer those that are principally characterised in different ways.

As for "detailed exposition", I agree that this is not necessary to give characters psychological depth. Examples have been given throughout this thread of characters who are given psychological depth (to varying degrees) by reference to external factors (Denethor and Eowyn spring to mind).

Maybe writers who can only use detailed exposition to get their point across are less talented (although not necessarily less successful, as Lush points out). But Squatter is right to make the point that certain types of novel require that the writer employs this style in order to achieve what he or she has set out to achieve. 1984 is certainly a good example of this, since we need to understand the effects of the events experienced by Winston Smith on his psychological state. This would be impossible without a good degree of internal characterisation. Another good example of this is The Magus by John Fowles, which also explores the effect of psychological manipulation on the mind of the protagonist (and is an excellent book, for those who have not read it).

But I must take issue with this statement, phantom:

Quote:
"Detailed exploration" is necessary to give a character depth only when ... the reader is not talented enough to pick up on textual clues or come to any sort of conclusion without the author specifically telling them to.
You seems to to be saying that a reader who does not pick up an every textual clue left by the author is somehow less talented than a reader who analyses each passage for every subtle nuance that might be present. But I do not think that you can judge the reader's quality as a reader on this basis. Nor do I think that a reader who picks up less of the textual nuances necessarily requires detailed exposition in order for them to enjoy their reading experience.

For example, I probably gained a much greater understanding of the characters and events of LotR when I re-read it recently than when I first read it aged 11. But I also probably lost some of the magic that I experienced the first time round. Both reading experiences were different: the first was more emotional, the second more intellectual. But I would not judge one as better than the other. Nor would I say that I am any more talented now as a reader than I was when I was 11. I was simply a slightly different kind of reader.
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Old 12-01-2003, 09:04 PM   #137
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Nor would I say that I am any more talented now as a reader than I was when I was 11. I was simply a slightly different kind of reader.
Don't be silly. That's like me saying "I'm not a less talented basketball player than Michael Jordan, I'm just a different kind of basketball player".

Of course you're a better reader now than you were when you were eleven (unless you were a very early bloomer).
Quote:
a reader who does not pick up an every textual clue... analyses each passage for every subtle nuance
Whoa. Don't go so overboard. My statement was meant to be a bit more general than that. I doubt there's anyone that catches everything, but people who can come to logical conclusions based on what they read are certainly better readers than those that cannot.

But my comment also had to do with people who lack imagination (people who can't create a rough profile of a character's personality without being told).
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Old 12-01-2003, 10:10 PM   #138
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Don't be silly.
Steady on phantom! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

Quote:
That's like me saying "I'm not a less talented basketball player than Michael Jordan, I'm just a different kind of basketball player".
No it's not. Reading is nothing like playing basketball. As I said, I got different things from the book on each occasion that I read it, neither of which I would value above the other.

Quote:
My statement was meant to be a bit more general than that. I doubt there's anyone that catches everything, but people who can come to logical conclusions based on what they read are certainly better readers than those that cannot.
I'm not going overboard. The second sentence here accurately summarises the sentiment that I have a problem with. I cannot agree that someone who makes these logical conclusions is somehow a better reader than someone who may miss them, but nevertheless experiences great enjoyment and satisfaction, perhaps on a more emotional level, from reading the same book.

Reading is not a competitive sport. [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
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Old 12-02-2003, 12:11 AM   #139
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If we are to become, as readers, more than mere consumers, it becomes evident that the notion of some sort of detailed exploration whether explicit or not permeates any great work of literature. One of literature's greatest functions, I would think, is to explore and to prompt the reader to do likewise, though different writers have different ways of achieving this.

Thus we have characters like Aragorn.

And then we have characters like Humbert Humbert.
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Old 12-02-2003, 12:23 AM   #140
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Steady on phantom!
Ah, one of my favorite Brit sayings. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Reading is not a competitive sport.
Neither is driving your car around town, but there are certainly some drivers who are much better than others.

Of course in reading it depends on whether or not you have the same specific goal. Obviously you can't compare two people if one is reading specifically for pleasure and the other for comprehension. But if person A and person B are both reading the same book and both have the same purpose in mind (eg they want to know the characters as well as they can) and person A gets to know them much better than person B (because he is able to interpret what he is reading) then person A is a more talented reader in that sense.
Quote:
but nevertheless experiences great enjoyment and satisfaction
Right now I'm not terribly concerned with how much people enjoy literature. I'm concerned with whether or not people are able to see character development.

As a child I really enjoyed reading all sorts of books (most of which had few deep characters, if any), but just because I had fun didn't make me a talented reader when it came to recognizing context clues as they related to the characteristics of the individuals in the story.

Don't be afraid to say that inequity exists in this world. It does. You are better than me at some things and I am better than you at some things. Similarly, some people are better readers when it comes to making logical inferences about book characters (which could be one reason why some people can't see depth when others can).
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Old 12-02-2003, 02:56 AM   #141
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But if person A and person B are both reading the same book and both have the same purpose in mind (eg they want to know the characters as well as they can) and person A gets to know them much better than person B (because he is able to interpret what he is reading) then person A is a more talented reader in that sense.
Or of course, your intepretation could be totally wrong and different from what the author intended.
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Old 12-02-2003, 08:52 AM   #142
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Neither is driving your car around town ...
You haven't seen how I drive. [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

But unlike driving, or basketball, or brick-laying, or javelin-throwing, the quality of a person's reading cannot be observed and objectively assessed. Since (reading aloud aside) reading is a personal experience, "talent" in this area can, to my mind, only be relevant by reference to the contribution that it makes to the reader's reading experience. And how can anyone ever know for sure whether one person's reading experience is more or less valuable than another's?

Quote:
Right now I'm not terribly concerned with how much people enjoy literature. I'm concerned with whether or not people are able to see character development.
Er, like most people, I read (novels) as a form of entertainment (mostly for enjoyment, but it need not, I suppose, necessarily be a pleasurable experience). So I see an understanding of character development only in terms of how it might influence the reading experience.

You have in mind, I suppose, reading for educational purposes (such as in school or college). That is not, in my view, the primary purpose of novels. Nevertheless, while such readers do tend to be rewarded for their intellectual understanding, is their experience really more valuable than someone someone who passes on the literary analysis but resonates with the novel on an emotional level? I cannot say that it is. Indeed, the first reader may have a very good textual understanding of a book but loathe it, while the second adores it despite lacking that same understanding (and failing their tests on it). Who is the better reader then?

Quote:
You are better than me at some things and I am better than you at some things.
Unbdoubtedly. Pick a sport, any sport, and you will unquestionably be better at it than me. But there is no way of assessing objectively which one of us is the "better" reader, if indeed there really is such a thing.

Quote:
Similarly, some people are better readers when it comes to making logical inferences about book characters ...
I agree that some people will be better at making logical inferences about book characters from textual clues. But surely that does not necessarily make them better readers.

Please feel free to reply, phantom. But, since this is heading in a decidedly "off-topic" direction, I am inclined not to respond further myself, save to the extent pertinent to the topic at hand.
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Old 12-02-2003, 12:19 PM   #143
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I, too, will stop replying after this final post.
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quality of a person's reading cannot be observed and objectively assessed
Ever hear of a reading test? I got a nice scholarship partially because the people who made the ACTs objectively assessed my reading level. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
Quote:
whether one person's reading experience is more or less valuable... by reference to the contribution that it makes to the reader's reading experience... is their experience really more valuable... but resonates with the novel on an emotional level... while the second adores it despite lacking that same understanding
These comments are primarily what has pulled us off topic. My point has never been about "enjoyment", "value", or "experience", my point has been about the reader's ability to recognize character depth (and character depth is what this thread is about).

Note that I've already said that you can't compare this with someone who's reading for pleasure-
Quote:
Obviously you can't compare two people if one is reading specifically for pleasure and the other for comprehension.
And also note that I've said more than once that I'm referring to reading ability specifically as the reader's ability to recognize character depth-
Quote:
I'm concerned with whether or not people are able to see character development... some people are better readers when it comes to making logical inferences about book characters
so I'm not sure where the problem is. Once again, my comments have nothing to do with enjoyment or overall reading experience. They have to do with the topic.
Quote:
I agree that some people will be better at making logical inferences about book characters from textual clues.
This is exactly what my point is, and you say that you agree with me, so why the debate? [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]
Quote:
But surely that does not necessarily make them better readers.
It does in that specific aspect of reading, and this specific aspect of reading is all that I have in mind right now (since it is this specific aspect that I thought was relevant to the topic).

(and I'm sure you could beat me at bowling SP, I'm a terrible bowler [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] )

[ 1:50 PM December 02, 2003: Message edited by: the phantom ]
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Old 12-02-2003, 12:31 PM   #144
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Old 12-02-2003, 01:02 PM   #145
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OK, you suceeded in drawing me out one more time, phantom. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

We are veering off topic because we are discussing general aspects of the reading experience rather than the topic of this thread: psychological depth in Tolkien's characters. That is perhaps my fault for picking up on a general comment which you made, but it has nothing to do with me bringing up the concept of entertainment. You cannot sensibly discuss aspects of the reading experience without taking into account its primary objective.

Quote:
My point has never been about "enjoyment", "value", or "experience", my point has been about the reader's ability to recognize character depth (and character depth is what this thread is about).
Yes, but my point is that these concepts are inextricably linked. You cannot consider them in isolation. Save in the limited area of education, we do not read novels solely for the purpose of trying to comprehend their characters. We read them to be entertained. Gaining an understanding of the characters is an aspect of the reading experience and one of the factors that may (or may not) contribute towards us being entertained by a book.

Phantom, you started by saying:

Quote:
"Detailed exploration" is necessary to give a character depth only when ... the reader is not talented enough to pick up on textual clues or come to any sort of conclusion without the author specifically telling them to.
... and went on to explain your comment as follows:

Quote:
people who can come to logical conclusions based on what they read are certainly better readers than those that cannot.
It was these blanket statements that I disagreed with.

But if you are simply saying that:

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some people will be better at making logical inferences about book characters from textual clues.
... then I agree with you. [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img] [img]smilies/tongue.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

And I'm bad at bowling too! [img]smilies/frown.gif[/img]

So let's get back to psychological depth in Tolkien's characters. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Edit: Fair enough, Sharkû. That's all from me on this issue.

[ 2:04 PM December 02, 2003: Message edited by: The Saucepan Man ]
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Old 12-24-2003, 02:07 PM   #146
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As this topic got well over my head, I moved on to others (hopefully less over my head) here on the Downs. Meanwhile, in the Movies forum, a reference was posted to an article that I think is applicable to this topic. (It is a short read.)

"Our culture is sadly unused to fully realized portrayals of good characters."

I think it is applicable to the previous discussion in that some 'modern' reviewers (and film makers) may come to these books without an ability to appreciate Tolkien's ability to portray good. Perhaps we have a state of culture such that we find "evil more fascinating than good."

(Thanks to mark12_30 for the link.)
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Old 12-24-2003, 03:19 PM   #147
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Nice link, though I, once again, disagree with using some nebulous notion of "today's culture" to blame Phillip Pullman and myself for finding some (if not all) of Tolkien's characters to be particularly psychologically deep on their own accord (this is when you subtract Tolkien's keen ability to draw the reader into the story so far that one has little problem picturing himself or herself as Sam, making his lonely choices in Mordor, for example).

I am do not view Tolkien's characters to be, on the most part, psychologically shallow because I live in the modern age, but because my definition of literary psychological depth differs from yours.

I believe that these characters are deep the way myth is deep, in that they do not allow for a close, personal study, and yet are able to resonate with the reader on a different level than, say, the likes of Humbert Humbert, Nick Carroway, or Anna Karenina.

We see Anna Karenina from the inside out, as opposed to the majority of Tolkien's characters (Gollum and, I would argue, Sam being the notable exceptions, but even then the inner psychological drama of these characters does not come close to what is happening inside Anna Karenina), where the reverse tactic is used by the author.

Calling Tolkien's characters "psychologically deep" is, in part, a slighting of writers like Tolstoy, Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Zadie Smith, and the like, whose concerns are, indeed with viewing characters from the inside out. None of these authors, however, were concerned with writing a mythology, which is what Tolkien was doing, and which, coincidentally, demands for a different approach in exploring the merit of each individual character.

I don't agree with Pullman's dismissal of Tolkien, because the criteria he uses to judge the book do not seem applicable to me, but I do agree with him that if one is looking for psychological depth, one should probably look elsewhere.

Incidentally, Anna Karenina appeared on the literary stage over a century ago. With this character in mind, arguing that it is the modern age specifically that has a problem with Tolkien's characters is, to me, a bit silly.

Furthermore, is The Lord of the Rings not a bestseller? Do millions of people not flock to see the cinematic adaptation? If modern culture does not "appreciate" what Tolkien is doing, then it certainy has a peculiar way of expressing itself. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
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Old 12-24-2003, 04:19 PM   #148
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Bravo, Lush!


Society shouldn't be blamed for the differences in perception of a group of people. Different people will always have different opinions. That is a given. Philip Pullman is fully entitled to his own opinion and perception of Tolkien's works, just as we are entitled to our own opinions and perceptions. But could we not also say that our words are clouded with bias? We love these books, ergo, we will defend them at all costs. Perhaps it takes the (relatively) objective eye of a non-fan to understand Tolkien's characters. We have to take that into consideration.
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Old 02-14-2004, 08:14 PM   #149
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On a broader scale, there's a huge distinction between not having any psychological depth and being written so a character reminds you of traits which are found in actual people you know and see all the time in life.

It's important to realize that for the sake of the story, not every facet of each character needed to be analyzed. Especially in a story about a fellowship of people, as we all know in a group, certain aspects commit people to filling a niche in each particular group. A certain group of friends may be described as having a 'smart one', 'crazy one', 'tough one', 'grim one', 'optimistic one', 'foolish one', and so forth.

The Fellowship divided them into those basic parts - naturally the more important characters got a little more depth added.

Also, later on more characters replaced, swapped, and passed on obvious and for the most part clear (therefore being confused for say, "cookie-cutter") characteristics. Boromir went through issues, went a bit mad, died back where he should have been - noble, honest and true. He died, but to take the part of noble, honest and true, soon Faramir got introduced, almost picking up where Boromir left off as far as the quest went.

There were a lot of dynamics that were alluded to also, but which weren't quite as obvious. It's obvious that say, Frodo, has already done a whole lot of maturing . . . he used to be something of a vegetable thief and a ragtag, now he's become a respectable young bachelor.

A lot of minor characters and enemies tend to represent individual characteristics too, orcs and trolls, the nazgul, elves, all tend to represent certain aspects which can be found in all of the characters and in each of us readers too. I think Tolkien, who wrote for himself, automatically assumed anyone else reading would be able to determine various psychological depths without him actively guiding us through their inner psyches.
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Old 02-20-2004, 11:41 PM   #150
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Tolkien so much depth, so little realization

i'm taken aback by that ignorant comment from the boy in the newspaper. tolkien was so careful in the character depth. they are all so complex and varied. i won't even start with examples.
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Old 02-21-2004, 06:11 AM   #151
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No, no, give us examples. Start with the complexities of Legolas.
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Old 02-21-2004, 09:10 AM   #152
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Yes indeed. Why don't we start with the depth of compassion and love that he has for the Hobbits and Middle-earth. Why don't we start with the way he seems to be able to find humor in every situation, even on Caradhras. Why don't with the start with the faith and loyalty that he has, enough to stand by Aragorn and his companions to the end. Legolas didn't have to volunteer for the Fellowship. He could have gone back to Mirkwood and isolated himself. He volunteered for the Quest because he felt a deep loyalty and love for Middle-earth. He was one of the most noble, self-less characters in the books. Don't belittle him because Tolkien didn't choose to give us more insight into his character.
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Old 02-21-2004, 04:45 PM   #153
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i'm taken aback by that ignorant comment from the boy in the newspaper.
I am also taken aback by the fact that such "boys" can win the Carnegie Medal, sell a zillion copies of their books, and do such a fine job of turning Milton on his head.

Clearly the guy doesn't know what he's talking about.

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No, no, give us examples. Start with the complexities of Legolas.
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Yes indeed. Why don't we start with the depth of compassion and love that he has for the Hobbits and Middle-earth. Why don't we start with the way he seems to be able to find humor in every situation, even on Caradhras. Why don't with the start with the faith and loyalty that he has, enough to stand by Aragorn and his companions to the end. Legolas didn't have to volunteer for the Fellowship. He could have gone back to Mirkwood and isolated himself. He volunteered for the Quest because he felt a deep loyalty and love for Middle-earth. He was one of the most noble, self-less characters in the books. Don't belittle him because Tolkien didn't choose to give us more insight into his character.
Both Kronos and Finwe have a point. On one side, there really isn't that much to Legolas. On the other side, we have the interesting case of someone that occupies a crucial niche in the narrative; Legolas is one of the few Elves willing to take an active role in the proceedings that decide the ultimate fate of Middle Earth. I wouldn't call the qualities Finwe listed as "depth" per se, because Tolkien never fleshes Legolas out; but that does detract from a reader's enjoyment of him. And that blond wig in the movies? Mmmmm.
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Old 02-21-2004, 06:40 PM   #154
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On one side, there really isn't that much to Legolas. On the other side, we have the interesting case of someone that occupies a crucial niche in the narrative
Precisely. The fact that Legolas as a character lacks psychological depth doesn't make him any less of an integral character in the context of the story that Tolkien was telling.

As I have said many times on this thread, the fact that many of Tolkien's characters lack psychological depth is not a criticism. It is simply a comment.
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Old 02-21-2004, 08:18 PM   #155
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Just a quick comment, I believe I lack much of experience with fantasy (I have however read HIM and am very fond of them) and literature compared to most of you so I don't have much authority on the subject (plus it's 3'o clock in the morning around here and I only have time to read the first page of this thread).

I believe that Tolkien was more of a poet than an author. His greatest strenght lies in conjuring up wonderful pictures, using analogues and adjectives that create visions in the reader's head. The Lord of the Rings is in that way similar to works like the Iliad (which I love very much), some characters are very well fleshed out (as already mentioned many times) while others are there more for the purpose of soming with the right words at the right time.

Became a bit shorter than originally intended...Hope I made some sense.
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Old 02-21-2004, 09:45 PM   #156
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I believe that Tolkien was more of a poet than an author. His greatest strenght lies in conjuring up wonderful pictures, using analogues and adjectives that create visions in the reader's head.
He does conjure up some amazing pictures in my and others minds, Falagar! I think also there is credit to be given to the logical and mythological consistency in his world as a backdrop to the story and characters therein. The fact that every name has a discoverable meaning, each event has a resonance in an earlier event that has been put down by Tolkien as background adds to the richness of story that may serve to augment, at least in effect, the depth of characters in the tale. The characters have a delineated history, which is enriched as one delves into the Legendarium more and more but which is hinted at in the main tale, thus giving more of a suggestion of depth beyond what is actually given outright to the reader.

Perhaps I mistake historical or mythological depth for psychological depth, but, then again, I am not up on my terminology and do not have an advanced English degree (although my husband the Witch King does, but he isn't talking--actually, he is rolling his eyes at my overdone Tolkien obsession as it is!)

Cheers!
Lyta

P.S. It is good to see this thread re-awakened!
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Old 02-22-2004, 04:53 AM   #157
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If Legolas was in a work by any other author except Tolkien then he would simply be identikit Elf No.1.

He personality traits amount to little more than the type of character traits exposed by the "in depth" interviews of celebrities on MTV.

Legolas, like archery, singing and the sea.

Going on about him joining the quest because of selflessness and the like could be argued equally about nearly all the fellowship. It is not unique to Legolas.
The real reason he joined is because the fellowship needed an Elf.
The same reason Gimli joined.

For a novel that is continously voted as best of the century, best of the milennium etc, I find it interesting that in a poll of the best 100 characters in fiction conducted by Book magazine, none of Tolkien's characters featured.

Pretty fitting for an author who spent more words describing green hill country than he does describing many of his major characters.

http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/fea...haracters.html
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Old 02-23-2004, 03:38 PM   #158
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It seems obvious that whether or not he was good at or spent a good deal of time characterizing, it is likely that he would not have a character on that page because Lord of the Rings is more of a history or a broader narrative in describing events rather than books that are more personal (The Catcher in the Rye) or those that have a clearly defined central character (Winnie the Pooh). Simply glancing down the list confirms such suspicions - many of these stories are linear, following one person, one central conflict, etc. Sherlock Holmes, Grendel, Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, James Bond, the Little Prince, the Cat in the Hat, Peter Pan, and Tarzan (and so on...) don't have much competition within their respective stories. Tolkien's readers have many more (likely) choices than most.
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Old 02-23-2004, 04:25 PM   #159
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1420! LOL! This is too much!

Quote:
Originally posted by Kronos
For a novel that is continously voted as best of the century, best of the milennium etc, I find it interesting that in a poll of the best 100 characters in fiction conducted by Book magazine, none of Tolkien's characters featured.

Pretty fitting for an author who spent more words describing green hill country than he does describing many of his major characters.
I agree with Legolas' post above. But maybe Kronos has a point, too.

Tolkien could have gotten at least one character in the Top 100, if he had wanted to. Imagine at the Bridge of Khazad Dum, instead of Gandalf saying this enemy is beyond any of your powers, it could have been the Cat in the Hat claiming, "Nothing is too hard for a Hat Cat like me!"
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