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Old 09-16-2014, 07:39 PM   #161
Formendacil
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Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
The "enchantment" that the Lord of the Rings puts on us is much like the golden eggs of nursery rhyme fodder. Both are beneficial to us, and bring a great deal of joy into our lives. However, how is it possible for a goose to lay golden eggs? In the fable, which I no longer fully recall (*ashamed*), the owners of the goose kill her to get at the eggs, and thus obviously ending the enchantment.

And it seems to me that to over-examine the cracks and holes in the book's enchantment is tantamount to killing the goose. In doing so, are we perhaps ending any future benefit, any future enchantment?
In the ongoing series of Formendacil-rereads-old-threads, this one hit me like a tonne of bricks, because although I did not remember its specific content (there is some spicy literary discussion in here, from the days when the Elves still stormed Angband!), I remembered this reaction, viscerally.

It's also interesting, reading some of the posts, that I have come to appreciate other positions. Most notably, Heren Istarion's point about Tolkien having been a major conduit through which he learned English. Although a born-and-bred English speaker (albeit of the prairie Canadian sub-dialect), I read Tolkien at a young enough age and reread him and reread him enough times that I don't I stand in an objective position at all when it comes to being pulled out of the art: the enchantment ISN'T, as a rule, broken for me, because it's become bound up in who I am.

That said, nine years ago when last this thread walked the earth, I had a very queasy reaction to all this "goose-killing." Part of that, perhaps, was the reaction of a precocious 18-year-old to the possibility that people knew a lot more than him (it pains me no end to read old posts I have left, even knowing they were in the main well-received at the time), but it was also, I think, a case of a devotee fearing for the beloved.

That gets us back into all sorts of previously-covered ground on this thread, but the interesting thing is that, by joining the Barrow-downs in the first place--and I joined for the Books discussion first and foremost, though other things came after--I was already subjecting Middle-earth to the scalpel. And in the years since, I have amassed a small collection (woefully incomplete) of academic-ese laden books about Middle-earth and even written in that vein myself.

For a while, I think it DID make reading The Lord of the Rings a more arid experience. In other words, for a few years there (not coincidentally the same years I was previously most active on this forum), knowing too much about the context and the parallels and the movie mish-hashes and the Tumblr memes did, in fact, break the enchantment. But the enchantment has reasserted itself and become the richer.

In other words, it's a disconcerting and jolting experience to realise you might have been growing up. By the same token, it turns out, Eighteen-year-old-Self, that growing up DOESN'T mean breaking the enchantment.
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Old 09-16-2014, 10:40 PM   #162
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Originally Posted by HerenIstarion

L294

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If it is of interest, the passages that now move me most – written so long ago that I read them now as if they had been written by someone else – are the end of the chapter Lothlórien (I 365-7), and the horns of the Rohirrim at cockcrow.
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Old 09-17-2014, 03:51 AM   #163
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For me it's not just one event or character, to put it simply it's how good the good guys are and how bad the bad guys are. It doesn't necessarily 'break the enchantment' but it is something that affects my appreciation of the 'secondary world'. It's also why I find characters like Feanor, Eol and Gollum more interesting than Finrod, Galadriel and Sam and can't stand the Vanyar.

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Old 09-17-2014, 10:25 AM   #164
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No one. But if this turns out to be Gandalf's habit, then a failure to do it raises questions. I'm researching it. So call that part of it a theory for now..
I do research on humans for a living. The human race is not that consistent. You know I love you, lmp, but a man will do the same thing a different way, some days, for many possible reasons, including because sometimes humans are just like that. It's one of the things that makes us interesting. Gandalf may have habits, but I imagine he is flexible enough to adjust his styles to the moment.

On with the court proceedings...
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Old 09-21-2014, 04:47 PM   #165
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Thanks, Formendacil, for tempting me to reread this thread. I see that I have failed to fulfill my promise. I confess that I lost the passion for the research, and it was never completed. I don't think it's going to happen. I confess also that my prosecutorial certitude of 2005 has diminished markedly in the last 9 years. So I must retire my prosecution permanently, as I've no stomach for it these days.

That said, it has been a happy stroll down memory lane.

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Originally Posted by Bethberry
Is self-knowledge, self-reflection, any kind of distancing between narrator/character/reader not feasible in fantasy? Does fantasy have to mean a total sublimation or suspension of the reader's disbelief? Or is this just a function of Tolkien's nod to the old narrative forms?

And, if enchantment requires the absence of irony or distance, does that make parody of fantasy far more easy or potent?
I have deleted the questions from the above quote that I consider myself unequipped to answer. I think that modern fantasy has seen distancing and/or the lack thereof across the spectrum.

I think a suspension of disbelief is a minimum requirement for fantasy. Secondary belief is the goal. The difference between the two is essential. For those who may be unfamiliar with the distinction, suspension of disbelief is the act of setting aside one's own lack of belief in what one is reading. Secondary belief is, first, never having had disbelief, and second, imaginatively entering into a secondary world, experiencing it as primary while reading.

Frankly, secondary belief is necessary for any fiction, not just fantasy.

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Old 10-15-2014, 01:08 PM   #166
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Wow, what a blast from the past! Nearly ten years ago. I can barely recognise myself in my posts, although what I think I was trying to suggest is that there is not really only one way to read either Tolkien, fantasy generally, or perhaps even any fiction.

I have recently come across a similar discussion and think this comment pertains very well to my thoughts these days. I am copying it with permission. It comes from one of our own members, although not written for the Downs.

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Originally Posted by Troelsfo
For some of us, the fascination and enjoyment of reading Tolkien's work – of being under the enchantment of our Secondary Belief in his sub-creation – awakens a desire to know more, to uncover a layer behind, beneath or above the one that is obvious ... and another layer, and another layer.

Doing this enhances our appreciation, and having done it, at least for me, enhances the sense of joy I find in myself whenever I come under Tolkien's enchantment once more.

I will not say that my way of appreciating Tolkien is better than anyone else's, but neither will I accept any claim that it is in some way lesser. It merely is mine, and as long as it increases my joy in Tolkien's writings, I shall continue doing it.
I suppose one could argue that Troelsfo's statement represents a desire to seek out the fuller details of the consistency which Tolkien was suggesting.

I'm no longer sure that either secondary belief or willing suspension of disbelief adequately explain the aesthetic situation of reading fiction/fantasy. Perhaps it is simply the ability to enter imaginatively into things that would normally be implausible, something akin to listening to arguments that violate our sense of reality/truth or considering perspectives from cultures different from our own.
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Old 10-15-2014, 05:05 PM   #167
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I'm no longer sure that either secondary belief or willing suspension of disbelief adequately explain the aesthetic situation of reading fiction/fantasy. Perhaps it is simply the ability to enter imaginatively into things that would normally be implausible, something akin to listening to arguments that violate our sense of reality/truth or considering perspectives from cultures different from our own.
To read Fiction basically inserts me into a waking dream. Reality fades to a background hum, and the book becomes reality. There is no difficulty with well-written fiction in accepting totally the world it contains.

I think one thing about Tolkien which aids me in acceptance of Middle-earth as 'real' is that in most substantial points, it is congruous with actual reality. The land has familiar patterns and forms: mountains, plains, forests, and deserts are described so that they fundamentally conform to what I have seen with my eyes. Plants, animals, and weather patterns are not those of some alien place.

The 'fantastic' alterations are still near enough to the familiar that I do not balk at the idea of talking trees, eagles, and angelic spirits embodied that act for both good and evil.
Elves and Dwarves, though having definite unique characteristics, to me manifest parts of the nature of Men in this world, so that the fantasy representations in Arda are once again not incomprehensible.

I think Tolkien understood well where the line stood with respect to 'believable' fantasy and the children's fairy-tale that adults simply smiled at. He stocked his works with alluring places, persons, and things that were recognizable enough to hold the interest of the realist, yet fantastic to the point that the dreamer was also enthralled.
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Old 10-15-2014, 06:15 PM   #168
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First of all, thank you to Bęthberry for alerting me to this interesting thread!

There are two issues in this thread that I should like to react to and reflect upon.

First, as to the experience of reading. I am, by education, a physicist, and I have worked in the world of the natural sciences all my adult life. This is my starting point for my interest in both the history of science and the philosophy of science. Our sciences, both the natural sciences, but also the humanist and sociological sciences, have evolved by the exchange of the written word, and I dare say that these sciences have evolved quite far based on this, and the written word has thus been able to establish a very large degree of common and shared understanding of not only the natural world (the topic of my own subject), but also of the world of the human mind.

With this in mind, I have to insist that any theory or model for the reading experience must account for the ability of the text to establish such a very high degree of shared understanding – something I often find that the more subjective models, insisting that all meaning is created in the mind of the reader and is completely subjective and non-communicable, fail to explain in a satisfying way.

It is, I trust, obvious that there are differences between different kinds of text. At one end we may have some of the more experimental forms of poetry, and at the other end a scientific article detailing some advance in our mathematical formulation of a problem in physics (and I suspect that such a one-dimensional model is woefully inadequate, but please bear with me for moment).

But even the most experimental form of poetry relies on shared conventions of interpreting the marks on the page (or screen) into sounds, of stringing them into words, for the individual words to obtain meaning, and for word-meanings to string together. Even when the Art deviates from these shared conventions, it still relies on them for its effect.

My point here is that any model for the reading experience must be able to account for the very high degree of communicability of meaning in a written form (I am here completely ignoring the issue of a common language – I assume that we are speaking of competent language-users in all cases).


The other, and related, topic that I would wish to reflect upon, is the enchantment of the sub-creator. This is what I touch upon in the statement that Bęthberry has already quoted.

For me, Tolkien's description of Literary Belief in his essay ‘On Fairy-stories’ has always described very acutely my own experience when reading Tolkien. But it goes further than that. The essay is also a sub-creation, and, like the game of cricket that Tolkien mentions, it can, for the enthusiast, produce the same kind of enchanted state, and it does so for me. So do the texts by Tom Shippey and Verlyn Flieger, and a number of other analytical and / or critical texts.

What is more, I have found that, for me, the reading of these have the effect of enhancing both the effect of Literary Belief and the feeling of joy when I sit down to read Tolkien's works again. Having this deeper understanding of Tolkien's text – and being conscious of it while reading, for me, actually increases its power of enchantment.

I do realise that this is not the case for everyone. For many the conscious realisation that Gandalf's choice at the Council of Elrond is an excellent example of trusting in providence (making the policy of the Council an exemplar of the claim that ‘in God we trust’) will only serve to break the enchantment, and I would never dream of forcing this conscious realisation upon them when they read, but I would, on the other hand, ask them to accept that their experience is not universal either, and that it has, for me (and doubtlessly for many others – I am not conceited enough to believe I am unique), the opposite effect: that of enhancing the enchantment and the joy in the story – in effect increasing the beauty I find in the story.


Looking this through, it seems to me that I am suggesting that we look at this at least as a two-dimensional thing (and probably there is still more to it than this).

One dimension is the extraction of meaning from a text. Here our subjective experiences seem to play a smaller part than it is often claimed, though this obviously varies depending on how abstruse the meaning is – if the text is composed with some care and the intention of communicating meaning, the transmission can be near-perfect, but if the text is composed in order to create sensations (or is composed carelessly), the transmission of meaning can be very poor.

The other dimension, then, is the engaging with the text. This seems to be far more subjective, though the author can certainly do something to control this as well (using mathematical symbolism is a good example). It does seem to me that subjectiveness here plays a larger part for texts written as art – whether fiction or poetry or something else I cannot name, so that our manner of engaging with a poem can vary far more than our manner of engaging with a mathematical proof.

Or perhaps not ... at least I know that I can find much beauty in an elegant mathematical proof and in such a case, I can be enthusiastically anticipating the next line with much the same kind of enchantment as the music-lover anticipating the next bar in a nocturne by Chopin.


And this brings me back to what Bęthberry has already quoted:
I will not say that my way of appreciating Tolkien is better than anyone else's, but neither will I accept any claim that it is in some way lesser. It is, however, my way, and the best one for me. Therefore, as long as it increases my joy in Tolkien's writings, I shall continue doing this way
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Old 10-15-2014, 07:33 PM   #169
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I don't think I've come across that fissure yet.
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Old 10-16-2014, 12:58 AM   #170
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Tolkien

The enchantment for me has not been broken, and will likely stay that way.
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