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Old 01-28-2004, 10:40 AM   #1
Angry Brandybuck
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Sting Did Tolkien find the idea of war honourable?

I've always wondered this. The books does tend to characterise the most esteemed and honoured men in society as being good fighters which suggests a yes.

However, I don't know how anyone who lived, as JRR did, through both World Wars, could possibly be of this opinion.

Any thoughts?
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Old 01-28-2004, 12:27 PM   #2
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For one thing, most "esteemed and honoured men" from LOTR had to be warriors. You see, esteemed and honoured men usually were leaders of their people, and one of the primary duties of the leaders in Middle-Earth was to protect their people from evil (Sauron and his buddies). And how do you protect your people from Sauron? You fight him.

Who do you want leading you into battle? An inept fighter? Obviously not.

But did Tolkien think that war was honourable? I doubt it. You see, it has to do with cause.

I recall a quote from LOTR where Faramir says that he doesn't love fighting, but rather he loves what he is fighting for.

That's where the honor comes from- the cause.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 1:30 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: the phantom ]
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:03 PM   #3
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War is never a good thing. But really, compared to our wars of today and our "Weapons of Mass Destruction"- G. Bush...the medieval wars and the fantasy wars of Tolkien were much more romantic and, dare I say, honourable. An example is that in Tolkien's battles, the leaders of the armies(except Denethor) would ride out in front of their armies and not hide in holes or fortresses like they do today. Unfortunately, I believe that in a world of diversity, wars are inevitable. Though they can be prevented, fights will break out because, Hey! We're human, we're vilent. We've had wars since the dawn of time. Although I'm disgusted with the way the world works today, the romantic era of swords and shields is probably gone forever. Shame, in my opinion.
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:04 PM   #4
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Tolkien

In Tolkien's works, war was inevitable. It was either fight or be conquered. But you will notice how Tolkien emphasises not the "glories" of war but the harships and heartache that occur becuase of war.

The death of a good king, Theoden
The death of a king's son Theodred
The corruption of Denethor
The corruption of Sauruman
The pain and the fear felt by all involved
The destruction/corruption of a home, the Shire
And much more

It is in my humble opinion that Tolkien did not intended to glorify war in any way. Instead it is a horrible and saddening necessity, needed at times when a peaceful resolution cannot be found. I believe that Tolkien would always work to find a peaceful solution to any problem, rather that fight.
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:05 PM   #5
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Phantom, the quote you were speaking of is my signature below!
Tolkien hated war, but I believe he saw how war could be necessary. He lived through an unnecessary WWI wherein the lives of a whole generation of young men were wasted. His books clearly show the horror of war and death and destruction. But he also lived through a war where it was necessary to counteract evil, WWII. Was it Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said that all that is necessary for evil to win is for good men to do nothing? The man who goes to war to to defend that which is right and the lives of his fellowmen is an honourable man. Tolkien said he was a hobbit at heart, and you will notice that the hobbits, though some want a little adventure, are very reluctant to take on what war requires when they actually get there. They love their peace and prosperity, but some of them realize that it is necessary to defeat oppressors in order to have that peace. And it is those who do some of the greatest feats of valour and honour. From the way Theoden's character developed, I believe Tolkien thought it more good and honourable for a man to go to a war that was necessary and if need be die in it as Theoden did than to stay home in fear. But he also wrote characters like the hobbits and Faramir, a wise man who said this:
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:07 PM   #6
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In other words, war as war, men killing men, is terrible and should never happen. But in great need, it is more honourable to go and defend and die than to stay home in cowardice and live.
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:33 PM   #7
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id have to say i agree with Iaurhirwen. I felt throughout the books that Tolkien was showing up sometimes war is necessary given the circumstance. As in the instance in the books when the chance is fight to live or do nothing and be enslaved. I think he was trying to say that there are some things worth risking everything for, and in what i believe to be a moving way. There is no point which i felt glorified war as an act at all.

This was probably all affected by the first world war, which Tolkien was obviously in- which many say was sort of pointless. Unlike the 2nd world war, which i think i there is no question had to be fought. Perhaps the War of the Ring is akin to the 2nd world war, it had 2b done to save the world and erradicate a true evil. Sauron/Hitler- it doesnt matter what the evil is the point is that its there and it is threatening the way of life of innocent people with no cause. And there cant be a truer reason for fightening than that.
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Old 01-28-2004, 01:35 PM   #8
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War is intolerable, but some conditions (slavery, tyranny) are even more intolerable.

War is an evil, but there is evil far worse.

War should be avoided, but not at *all* costs, only until the cost of not going to war becomes higher.

'Nuff said.
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Old 01-28-2004, 03:49 PM   #9
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Sting

I like what quite a lot of you are saying. Of course, Tolkien doesn't translate very easily over to the real world because in Middle Earth, there is more or less a good definition of evil. which doesn't often happen in the real world (unless you believe only one country's propaganda).

A few points:
I personally think it is great that we no longer live ine the romantic world of sword and shield, bloody, horrific days that they were. Days when you joined an army, got given a sword and told to fight, and if you didn't you died. Days when hundreds of men would be sent to their deaths just because one Lord insulted another's dog.

It is also a popular misconception that generals/Kings rode at the front. What would be the use of riding out, when you then couldn't see the battlefield and give orders.

I know this isn't relevant but I don't really think World War I was 'pointless' but what do I know, I only have a GCSE and an A Level in 20th Century History. Also World War II could have been avoided easily if only the Allied leaders had had a bit of diplomatic backbone about them,(Remilitarisation of the Rhineland and the Sudetenland spring to mind).

It is interesting to note that the evil 'side' in LoTR attacks innocent civilians in raids with fire etc. but the more honourable 'good guy' approach is the pitched battle, right down to the parley at the beginning. A comment on the way modern wars are fought?
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Old 01-28-2004, 04:13 PM   #10
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Tolkien only belived war was right when it was in self-defense or you were put into slavery or subjugated. They kind of nod to this in the movies when Sam says, "There are some things worth fighting for in this world." Tolkien belevied every human being had certain inalienable rights......You know the rest. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 01-28-2004, 04:17 PM   #11
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Sting

I really like this thread. It questions the morals of fighting and the justification.

Quote:
It is also a popular misconception that generals/Kings rode at the front.
I meant only in Tolkien's LOTR battles. Aragorn and Theoden were always outfront, I think that's a great leader, willing to fight to the end for your people. I realise that that's not very practical, but it's still noble. Of course, in the first and second age, the leader(king) of the people didn't always leave the safety of his fortress, I'm thinking of Thingol in Doriath, he was an exception to.

You were right in saying that WW1 was nessesary. It turned the corner on the depression and raised the spirits of alot of countries. Oh course, war is bad and evil and all of the above, but it does serve a purpose.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 5:17 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: Ainaserkewen ]

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 5:20 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: Ainaserkewen ]
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Old 01-28-2004, 04:23 PM   #12
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Quote:
It is also a popular misconception that generals/Kings rode at the front. What would be the use of riding out, when you then couldn't see the battlefield and give orders.
this may have been true in the dark-ages of our world, however in midle earth (specificaly the battles at isengard and Gondor) where last desperit atempts at deffens against all ods. there fore stradegy was no longer the key. the lords/King riding in front of there armies was a noble romantic desplay of courage, primarily for the binnefit of there subjects showing them by example that it was better to go out in a blaze of glory than to statagise while sitting on a hill top untill all of their toops where defeated. the result being everyone in the armies fought with a renewd vigor.
I do agree with everything you guys have said but I dont see any relevance to LOTR in any post yet writen. of corse J.R.R.T. didnt think war was honourabl(no one who has seen two world wars would), but he did know that it was nesecary in some instances and more importantly he knew that it was an essental part of any fantasy storie.
Tolkien was a self proclamed non-alagorical writor. so find it very unlikely that he meant for his war to be compaired to any war we have ever had.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 5:28 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: camomile ]
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Old 01-28-2004, 06:55 PM   #13
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Sting

I am interested in something... something that many of you have never thought about or imagined.

When you read the battle scenes in the books, how does the image take shape in your mind's eye? Let's take the charge of the rohirrim for example.

Here we have over 4000 mounted men, armed with swords and spears charging into a group of orcs/men.

Many people have replied above that they guess hand to hand fighting is more "romantic" than the wars of today... this is a huge myth, thought the idea of killing someone at close hand seems better than killing someone from 20 miles away and you'd hope it'd make people more loathe to do kill, the reality was that in a melee... with people swinging and stabbing, clean kills are rarely made.

War using hand to hand weapons such as in LOTR, would involve a LOT of body parts being severed, and I dont mean just heads and limbs... small things like ears and fingers and scalps are being ripped off, abdomens are being split, heads are being cloven vertically... you'd see pieces of your friends flying around...

My point is this (sorry this had to be graphic) : do you guys picture these battles as they really would be? Or does your mind just see the goodies chopping the baddies, and the baddies chopping the goodies?

The way these battle scenes are written, causes me at least to imagine them without the true aspects of hand to hand battle... and I am glad of that, however it does make war seem and look more honourable. Tolkien experienced these sort of things first hand... and in no way loves war or finds war as a whole honourable.

If i imagine war as it should be... the romance leaves it, not the honour, for it is still perhaps honourable to die for a cause. Killing someone is not honourable, but perhaps fighting for something worthy is?

All war is horrible, and unneeded, but perhaps it is built into the human psyche- you have to admit it is a good way of keeping the populations down.


*wowee i am a wight finally!*

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 7:56 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: Osse ]
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Old 01-28-2004, 09:08 PM   #14
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I have always viewed war as a necessary evil. Killing fellow human beings is never an enjoyable activity (unless you're a sociopath, in which case you should go far far away!) and it shouldn't be considered an acceptable activity. However, there are always exceptions to the rules. If someone came into your house, started stealing all your things, raped your wife and daughter, killed your son, and proceeded to humiliate you, what would you do? (I apologize for the graphic description.) Would you meekly stand there and let all of your self-respect get stripped away? Would you let your good name and your honor get dragged in the muck? Absolutely not. In situations like that, violence, whether it be physical or verbal, is necessary to defend one's rights. That in itself is a noble cause. It becomes even more noble when you fight to defend someone else's cause. I will use the example of the movie Glory because I just finished watching it in US History AP class. At the end of the movie, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his men charge up the hill in a doomed charge, knowing full well that they will die. Why do they do it? Is it for glory, for fame? No. They do it out of the realization that they are fighting for the rights of their fellow human beings, a cause worth fighting for, a cause worth dying for.

The same can be applied to Tolkien's world. War was not a pretty or dandified thing. People were slaughtered, lives were destroyed, homes obliterated, and whole races exterminated. But it was necessary. Would you have preferred that Morgoth or Sauron have conquered all of Middle-earth, and covered the lands in darkness? No. That is the last thing that any of us want and what any of the characters wanted. They were defending their homes, their way of life, and their families. For a cause like that, anything is justified.

Due to our technological advances in this day and age, we have a much more detached idea of war than our ancestors did. Unless we experience it firsthand on the battlefield, or near a civilian target, we don't know what it actually is like to experience war. We don't know the sight of bodies being blasted to pieces. We don't know the smell of rotting flesh and burning homes. We don't know the sound of bereaved families and children screaming, as bombs are being dropped on their homes. We don't know the feeling of bullets or shrapnel thudding into our bodies. All we can do is simply read about or watch those experiences. Some of us may have the opportunity to actually experience that, but for the rest of us, we must read about or watch them, and find what honor there is in them. There is honor. There is honor, pride, glory, and fame in each and every thing that we do. Is that not what we fight for? Do we not strive to uphold the honor of our family, our country, and ourself? There is honor in all and we must discover that if we are to truly appreciate the world around us.
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Old 01-28-2004, 09:35 PM   #15
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Quote:
Was it Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said that all that is necessary for evil to win is for good men to do nothing?
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

-Edmund Burke.

Quote:
Also World War II could have been avoided easily if only the Allied leaders had had a bit of diplomatic backbone about them,(Remilitarisation of the Rhineland and the Sudetenland spring to mind).
I don't know. It is said that Hitler had his ultimate goal planned out(the Lebensraum thing) - it's his road map that's under construction. Had Chamberlain not given Rhineland, Austria, and Sudetenland to Hitler, war would have broken out sooner.

But then, if the Allies had shown they mean business, Hitler would have backed off, even if only a little.

Quote:
Many people have replied above that they guess hand to hand fighting is more "romantic" than the wars of today.
Probably had something to do with the fact that you needed skill back then. Now, it only takes a few men(well, maybe more than twenty, but still few compared to a fighting force with the same destructive power) to annihilate humanity in one hour. Where's skill in that?

Tolkien participated in WW1, an honourable war at the beginning, due to that fact that every one of the original belligerents were fighting for something: Britain for Belgium; Russia for Serbia; Belgium and Serbia for their sovereignty; France, defending against an unprovoked attack; Germany for its ally, and itself from encirclement; and Austria-hungary, for its very existence.* But then, the means to fight were very degrading. Men were forced on useless attacks to gain a few yards, forced to hide in trenches to survive, and generally removed of their humanity, being turned into an instrument of violence.

Now Tolkien might have found the idea of war for a higher cause honourable, but the modern means to wage it was deplorable. So he went on to write about the medieval means, where men were men, not machines.

Later days! [img]smilies/cool.gif[/img]
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P.S. Sorry if I turned into a quasi-analysis of the World Wars. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

*with credits to Encyclopedia Britannica. [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 10:40 PM January 28, 2004: Message edited by: Nilpaurion Felagund ]
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Old 01-28-2004, 10:04 PM   #16
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Quote:
P.S. Sorry if I turned into a quasi-analysis of the World Wars.
it was great [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:05 AM   #17
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Since many of you have referred to Tolkien's own war experiences, I'd like to recommend this thread:
Tolkien and the Great War. davem reviews a new biographical book about that time of JRRT's life.

Note to all: Please be sure to stay on topic - your posts should be primarily about Tolkien and/or his works and not drift off to general discussions on war.
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Old 01-29-2004, 03:23 AM   #18
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There's a point made by Matthew Dickerson in his new book, Following Gandalf, that apart from Helm's Deep, all the major battles in Hobbit & LotR are seen either from a distance, or through the eyes of Hobbits, or described by participants after the event. At the Battle of the Five Armies, we see through Bilbo's eyes, & though its said that it was one of the proudest events of his life, he gets hit on the head by a rock & spends most ot it unconcscious, & his experience of it is as being nasty, violent & the kind of thing best avoided if at all possible, & he tells the dying Thorin that it has all been a 'bitter adventure if it must end so'. At Pelennor Fields, what do we see of the actual battle? The focus is on Theoden's death & Eowyn's courage & Eomer's grief & resulting battle madness, all seen from Merry's perspective. And while the victory, against all odds, may be glorious, because unexpected, it ends with a dirge, & a desription of all those who have given their lives. The Battle before the Black Gates is seen mostly from Pippin's perspective, & he spends most of the time thinking about how terrible it all is & wanting to be back with his best friend. Yes, there is Helm's Deep, but there is little focus there on glory, mostly on the struggle to retain hope in the face of overwhelming evil. Gimli & Legolas do have their 'competition' but these are members of races with an especial loathing of Orcs & a tendency to want to exterminate them from the face of the earth, even more than men do, but it is also about courage in the face of adversity, & an attempt to lift each other's spirits.

As has been said, after the Somme, where two out of his three closest friends died in horrific circumstances, Tolkien couldn't glorify war, but while hating it, he did feel it necessary, sometimes, because we are fallen beings in a fallen world, & Middle Earth is full of the malice & evil of Morgoth, who sent his power into the very matter of Arda, so that, as he said, the whole of Middle Earth is Morgoth's 'Ring'. It seems to me that Tolkien's attitude to war is summed up in statements by Elrond & Galadriel, about having seen 'many defeats & many fruitless victories', & about 'Fighting the Long Defeat'. War is inevitable, & will keep on happening. He says that even while fighting in WW1 & seeing those around him die, he never believed in all that 'war to end wars' stuff.

Another interesting point, made in a talk at Oxonmoot by Jean Chausse, is that out of all Tolkien's major characters, only two, Turin & Boromir, actively go out & seek 'glory & renown in battle, & both come to tragic ends. All the others are forced into battle to defend what they love, & Tolkien's ideal warrior is Faramir, who, he says, out of all the characters in LotR, is the one he felt closest to.
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Old 01-29-2004, 08:56 AM   #19
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So, so far it has been more or less 'decided' that Tolkien doesn't like war, but see it as a neccessary evil to counter worse evils in the world, embodied in Middle Earth by Saruon/Morgoth.

I still do not like the overly romanticised view of medieval warfare that some seem to possess, but oh well. I guess that is a large element of Tolkien's writing (harking back to his being brought up reading 'boys own' stories no doubt!)

Was he right though? is it right that sometimes, if you feel a certain thing is wrong in your opinion, should you attack someone based on that? The Cold War (although not a 'real' war) was viewed by many in both America and the USSR as an idealogical conflict. Of good verses evil but in truth the Americans just didn't want Communism to spread because it would mean they lost trade and money etc. And the Soviets wanted to spread COmmunist ideas because that was the only way their Marxist beliefs could be fulfilled.

It strikes me also that Tolkien is setting the idea of very much a modern war, a war of ideals, where a whole country/nation/people are set against another, (This is 'Total War' as written about in theories by Clausewitz.) into a Medieval context. Wars in the 'swrod and shield' age were primarily fought to claim land and make money, not for any moral reasons.
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Old 01-30-2004, 11:11 PM   #20
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I think fighting for what you believe in is such an honorable thing. My grandfather was in WW2 and he got 3 purple hearts and a silver star for fighting for what he believed in. I think to fight and die a heros death is the greatist way to go out. See if i was a chracter in lotr then i would have chosen to die(if i had to) fighting to the death like Theodin wanted to. I would have ridden out to meet them and die the most truly honorable way.
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Old 01-31-2004, 08:33 AM   #21
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I don't doubt that Tolkien's views on war and warfare were coloured by his experiences in France and the loss of several close friends during the Somme offensive; but they were also shaped by his interest in the legends of the North. In his academic writing on the subject, I find an admiration for a way of thinking that he terms the 'northern heroic spirit': this is necessarily warlike, but manifests itself in heroic actions performed of necessity and in unavoidable circumstances. He was not a pacifist, as has been mentioned above; but I think that his writing betrays a very common twentieth-century concern: the desire for a just cause in which to fight. Tolkien disapproved of the tendency to demonise the enemy that was prevalent in Britain during the forties (and still is wherever two countries are fighting a war), and he was horrified by the destruction of Germany, which he called "one of the most appalling world-catastrophes". I think that he was deeply saddened by the entire process, but at the same time inspired by heroism on any side. Throughout his works it is heroism that is really idolised: he disparages chivalry in his essay Ofermod, and he was clearly no jingoist, but he could admire the simple courage and nobility of those who actually fight. Since it is necessary to have a war in order to show certain types of bravery, it is not surprising that war features strongly in his writing; but I think it significant that in Tolkien's wars the enemy is not only clearly evil but also the aggressor and the instigator of hostilities.

I think it very significant Tolkien's central characters are not naturally warlike. Although able to show courage at a pinch, his hobbits do not even practice the arts of war, and fight only when there is a pressing need to do so. Even Aragorn, described in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings as "the most hardy of living Men", fights entirely in the defence of others: in his guarding of Eriador; in his wars for Gondor and Rohan, and at Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith, he is fighting against encroaching armies. Even in his last great march on Mordor, he attacks as a diversion with the intent of aiding another mission, and against people who have first besieged his capital. Often the more warlike characters are seen in an ambiguous light: Fanor, for example, leads the Noldor in what appears a just cause, but his very eagerness to engage the enemy leads to horrific consequences. Trin is also quick to fight and too eager for battle, thus speeding the fall of Nargothrond and helping to seal his own doom; and the tragic case of Boromir again involves a great captain and soldier, who cannot see a way to victory except through force of arms.

I suspect that this theme is an indication of what Tolkien thought war ought to be: fought only in defence and with compassion and honour. Clearly he knew that this is not how things work in the real world: if they did, I doubt that his writings would have been the same. I think that he would say that one does not have to like war to admire heroism, but that heroism in itself does not of necessity require a war. All of Bilbo's heroic acts in The Hobbit are performed off the battlefield, often alone or with few witnesses; and of course Frodo and Sam, probably the most closely drawn heroes in Tolkien's writing, take no part in any major battle, performing their greatest feats of bravery out of sight of the world.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 9:51 AM January 31, 2004: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rdh ]
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Old 02-02-2004, 08:59 AM   #22
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I think to fight and die a heros death is the greatist way to go out.
I don't think I could possibly disagree with you more. Anyway, War isn't about dying, its about killing. Do you honestly think that you would be able to will destroy another human life, and still think yourself more morally right that that person. After all, at war, you and your enemy are both in the same boat really, being controlled from above.

Tolkien avoids this issue by making, as the person above said, the enemy very obviously evil, and not normally human.
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Old 02-02-2004, 02:27 PM   #23
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Quite often when the enemy is human, Tolkien implies that they have been duped or coerced into fighting. Certainly this is true of the Dunlendings; and Sam's thoughts on the dead Man of Harad in Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit provide an interesting counterpoint to the skirmish itself, which takes place almost entirely out of sight. I think that this scene is absolutely typical of Tolkien's portrayal of war between Men or Elves: that it is neither natural nor desirable for the Children of Ilvatar to kill one another. In fact that this can only be the work of Morgoth and his servants.
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Old 02-02-2004, 03:39 PM   #24
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I think, Squatter, you have put your finger on the point where Tolkien's world view can be examined for its culpability (I'm not sure that is the right word, but it is the one available to me now, in a hurry): the portrayal of evil as something incarnate and external to the natures of the 'good guys.'

The argument being that, when evil is viewed as the effect of someone or something 'other' or out there, it becomes more difficult to recognize the possibility of error or evil in ourselves. It becomes easier to justify aggression, hostility, war because the assumption is always that the fault lies with this external perpetrator rather than in how the good guys have themselves behaved or understood the situation. Squatter's terms 'duped' and 'coerced' are very significant here because these words imply that the ultimate responsibility lies more with this form of evil incarnate rather than with those who have 'fallen'. That attitude takes away their agency and lessens their responsibility. It is always easier to say, "He made me do it" than to acknowledge personal responsibility. (This, to me, is part of the elves' error.)

It lends itself almost inevitably to the philosophical position of dualism, or Manicheanism (in one of its forms), which I believe is a heresy in terms of Catholic doctrine.

Tolkien himself pointed out this error, if I am remembering correctly, in one of his letters where he regretted using evil as incarnate in a specific being. Darned if I can remember which letter now and I (obviously quite conveniently [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] ) have no time to suss it out now.

This, of course, leads to a larger philosophical discussion which perhaps takes us away from Middle-earth.

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 4:57 PM February 02, 2004: Message edited by: Bthberry ]
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Old 02-02-2004, 08:22 PM   #25
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One major thing that has been left out: Tolkien repeatedly stated that LotR was not allegorical in anyway. He meant it to be enjoyed for what it was, not to fuel political statements.
That said, I think war is an evil, but a nessary one. It's not pleasant, pretty, or glorious, but it can be honourable and courageous, and sometimes the best course of action. In the last book, we see Eowyn and Merry striving to defend the people the care about, contrasted with Denethor, who was cowardly and refused to fight.
I don't know much about World War I, but action World War II was entirely necessary. I regret tha America did not get involved sooner. Hitler was an evil that needed to be stopped. Innocent people were being killed, and somethings, no matter what you say, are just wrong. I'm not saying that anyone had wholly pure reasons for going in, but what came about was for the better. It also serves as a reminder to future generations about the evils of war, and how for such evils can go.
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Old 02-02-2004, 09:57 PM   #26
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I would reply to your post Roa, but I fear I would deviate from Middle-Earth too much, something I am loathe to do, so if you are interested in what I have to say in respons, I will kindly PM it to you [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] <bows low>


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Old 02-02-2004, 10:14 PM   #27
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Sure, go ahead. I'm always ready for a good discussion.
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Old 02-03-2004, 03:45 AM   #28
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Isn't war inevitable in Middle Earth, even from before its creation? When Illuvatar allows the whole of the Music, even Melkor's input, to be given form, & Melkor himself to enter into Arda, conflict is inevitable. The more Morgoth puts forth his power & intent into the matter of Arda, the more evil, & war, its most terrible physical manifestation, is guaranteed. Wars happen because the inhabitants of Middle Earth are fallen beings in a fallen world

So, war is inevitable in Middle Earth. The issue then becomes, how they are fought, with what motives, & perhaps the Bhagavad Gita has something to say on that issue. Tolkien's heroes in the main fight for the right reasons, in a, generally, honourable way. Defeats & fruitless victories are the way of things in Arda, & will continue to be till the Great End. Taking War as a given, Tolkien seems to be saying the real issue is how we behave in wartime, & holds up Faramir as the ideal.

Bethberry, as far as the Manichaean issue goes, we've been going round in circles on that one in the 'Frodo at Sammath Naur' thread.
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Old 02-03-2004, 08:05 AM   #29
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The "Most esteemed and honoured men" in LOTR are not merely good fighters striving for their glory on the battlefield as an end by itself, but also men of learning, enhanced in the arts and gentleness, who do not kill whithout necessity and have compassion for the weak and innocent, an ideal which somehow reminds you of Plato's claim that philosophers should be kings (mind also that the hands of a king are the hands of a healer).
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Old 02-03-2004, 09:14 AM   #30
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TTT: Window On The West, Faramir speaking:
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War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend; the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as man may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.
Tolkien's opening description of Faramir in Letters (Letter 66) :

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A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking in the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir-- and he is holding up the 'catastrophe' by a lot of stuff about the history of Gondor and Rohan (with some very sound reflections no doubt on martial glory and true glory): but if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendicies...
"Very sound reflections". I think TOlkien was stating that he agreed with Faramir's statement, quoted above.
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Old 02-03-2004, 10:16 AM   #31
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Joy of battle?

I agree with all the above saying that war was the necessary action to fight evil and bravery was the most appropriate behaviour in times of war, but how about this line:
Quote:
And then all the host of Rohan burst into song and they sang as they slew for the joy of battle was on them
(from Ride of the Rohirrim).

Joy of battle - somewhat equal to the northern heroism that Squatter mentioned? To me it appears to be more than that. The pacifist in me shudders at the idea of someone singing with joy in the midst of a crude battle...especially the good guys...

<font size=1 color=339966>[ 11:17 AM February 03, 2004: Message edited by: Evisse the Blue ]
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Old 02-03-2004, 10:59 AM   #32
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But why do you think Tolkien is holding them up as an example, anymore than he is holding up Eowyn's deathwish for praise. He is acknowledging a fact of human behaviour.

I'd also refer you to what Faramir has to say to Frodo about the three kinds of Men in Middle Earth.
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Old 02-03-2004, 11:07 AM   #33
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I'd also refer you to what Faramir has to say to Frodo about the three kinds of Men in Middle Earth.
Yes, the Rohirrim were more primitive, more 'barbaric', but they were also the most similar to Anglo-Saxons. Take their language and names for instance. I always had the impression the author felt very sympathetic towards them. This passage is dealt with differently than Eowyn's death wish, which is openly dissaproved by the other characters.
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Old 02-03-2004, 04:21 PM   #34
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Sad and even incomprehensible though it may seem to some, there are people who really do enjoy fighting, and the joy of battle is a recurrent theme in the literature that was Tolkien's professional area of interest. None of us can know what it was to be involved in a cavalry charge like that of the Rohirrim: careering wildly into battle amid a host of one's comrades, driving the enemy and scattering them and, yes, killing them. I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me that the sheer rush of adrenaline must have been tremendous, imparting a feeling of invincibility as one charged down and defeated a hated enemy.

Odin's role as a war god is well established in the popular imagination, but he was also a god of poetry and wisdom; and in the Germanic mind there is nothing unusual about composing poems on one's sword or axe. The problem here is that this does not agree with Tolkien's portrayal of war elsewhere: as something regrettable and sad. However, he was not the only person to describe this feeling, and we must therefore presume that this is an aspect of war, particularly a medieval war, that really did exist, and which is portrayed here much as it could have been. I am reasonably sure that he had never felt it himself, in fact I am fairly certain that he was working from ideas that he had read in early-medieval poetry; but Tolkien is, perhaps, showing us why people will perpetuate a warrior mentality. Faramir and Aragorn are unusually noble men, and it seems natural that they should regard war as a regrettable thing. Clearly they are the standard, and represent the stronger element in Tolkien's mind; but there is another element at work that understands how someone might love battle in itself, and this shows itself elsewhere in his writing. There is something dark and terrible about people singing as they go to kill and die. It has a poetic power that is echoed in a passage from Smith of Wootton Major in which the hero encounters Elven warriors:
Quote:
He stood beside the Sea of Windless Storm where the blue waves like snow-clad hills roll silently out of Unlight to the long strand, bearing the white ships that return from battles on the Dark Marches of which men know nothing. He saw a great ship cast high upon the land, and the waters fell back in foam without a sound. The elven mariners were tall and terrible; their swords shone and their spears glinted and a piercing light was in their eyes. Suddenly they lifted up their voices in a song of triumph, and his heart was shaken with fear, and he fell upon his face, and they passed over him and went away into the echoing hills.
Clearly Tolkien himself found this awesome and terrifying yet fascinating, but there is also a narrative purpose at work. I doubt that he could have made the host of Rohan seem more intimidating, or better explain why their enemies crumble before them than to show them not just eager for the fray, but actively enjoying it. What this reveals of the contradictory nature of many of his ideas is probably a matter for another post.

Bethberry has raised a very interesting point, and one on which Tolkien is regularly pulled up: that of his portrayal of evil. Obviously the presence in his text of a physical personification of wickedness gives particularly The Lord of the Rings a definite feeling of simplicity, in which it is much easier to choose sides than in the world we inhabit. However, the idea that evil is imposed from outside is balanced by a feeling that there is something within us that resonates with and reacts to that influence. Tom Shippey devotes an entire chapter to the discussion of this point in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and I have neither the space nor the skill to rehash his entire argument here; but a good example of this dual portrayal lies in the action of the Ring. Although it is made clear to us that anyone would eventually be overcome by the One, he does more than suggest that certain people will be more quickly and completely corrupted than others. When Frodo regrets Bilbo's not having killed Gollum, Gandalf replies:
Quote:
Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.
Like the Christian world view, Tolkien's writing suggests that there is an embodiment of evil, which we have the power and right either to accept or deny; but also in making Melkor (to Ilvatar as Lucifer is to God) dissipate so much of his power in the world, he makes evil a part of everything that exists in 'Arda marred'.

This is too simplistic a view of Tolkien's portrayal, though. Charles Moseley in his book on Tolkien in the Writers and their Works series, quite rightly places a lot of weight behind Christian elements in Tolkien's view of evil, and makes the connection between Morgoth and Lucifer better than I. However, Shippey has another strand of philosophy to draw in: that of the Boethian view that evil does not exist, and that what we consider evil is in fact simply an absence of good. Shippey cites C.S. Lewis' essay Mere Christianity, in which he points out that many people who commit evil acts justify them in terms of good: 'circumstances have changed' says the oathbreaker; 'I was provoked' says the murderer. There is a suggestion that people do not simply love evil for its own sake. To me this sounds like taking self-justification as an indication of motive, but there is certainly more to the theory than that. When Gandalf says that 'the treacherous are ever distrustful' he is making a point about the inherent weakness and misery of evil. He says in no uncertain terms that there is something missing from the evil characters that is present in the good, whilst still showing that in the good there are elements of evil.

Another important Christian theme is the offer of repentance. Saruman, Gollum, Grma and even Sauron are all given at some point the opportunity to repent and to return to what they were. For various reasons, each turns this down, but the point is that the offer is extended, which implies that there is a chance of it being accepted. As Gandalf says, even Sauron himself was not evil from the beginning, but from his portrayal in the Silmarillion, neither was Melkor. In all of these cases, something is thrown away to make the character into something evil, but there is never a point after which they cannot go back. It just becomes harder to do so as time passes.

I have only really scratched the surface of all there is to say on this subject, but hopefully that leaves a lot for others to point out. As it is, my hands are threatening to drop off, so I shall leave off here.
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Old 02-04-2004, 03:22 AM   #35
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Obviously, in Middle Earth. war is not only justifiable, but necessary. Fighting the Long Defeat, may be a hopeless prospect, but Tolkien is saying, if that's the only available response to evil, then that's what you have to do, even if all you can hope for are defeats or fruitless victories. If war is inevitable (the alternative being to allow evil to triumph unchallenged) then you fight. But the question then becomes, how do you fight? How do you behave on the field. How are the Rohirrim, with their joy in battle & their contempt of their foes - sticking their heads on spikes - to be judged? As the Bhagavad Gita points out, if a war must be fought, to control, if not to ultimately defeat, evil, then it becomes a matter of how you behave - if you are cruel, if you take pleasure in killing, exult in the suffering of your enemy, what effect does that have on you? What do you become? Look at Feanor, in his insane desire to take revenge on Morgoth & win back the Silmarils. He becomes a monster, killing his some of his own people & leaving others to die.

Clearly Tolkien is making a point about the exhilaration & joy of battle, especially in the description of the charge of the Rohirrim, but through Faramir he condemns it, seeing it as barbaric. Tolkien also makes it clear that such behaviour is suicidal, & that the seduction of the attitude behind the Rohirrim's behaviour is dragging even Gondorians down. The influence of Gondor can raise up the Rohirrim, but the influence of Rohan can corrupt even the 'High' men of Gondor, & he cites the high reputation that Boromir has in Gondor as a great warrior.

Essentially, Tolkien acknowledges the fact of the 'joy of battle', but that is not the same as praising it. The Charge reminds one of the Helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, with the Ride of the Valkyries blaring out, the 'grunts' singing as they slay. The Rohirrim win the day, so, is Tolkien presenting them as 'heroes'? What if they'd lost - another glorious defeat in a long history of such? Or another example of Ofermod, resulting in another Nirnaeth Arnoediad? Dagor Aglareb & Nirnaeth Arnoediad differ only in their outcome, not in the behaviour of the participants. In other words, we can't judge Tolkien's attitude to war & violence merely on the outcome, which is down to uncontrollable factors. To judge whether a form of behaviour, or a particular action, is good or bad, is being 'praised' or 'condemned' by a writer based merely on the outcome - joy in battle is 'bad' because the result is defeat (Nirnaeth Arnoediad) - joy in battle is 'good' because the result is victory (Dagor Aglareb/pelennor Fields) - is to oversimplify the writer's attitude/philosophy regarding war.

Tolkien doesn't find the idea of war 'honourable', in my opinion. Nor does he find it 'dishonourable'. He acknowledges that both honourable & dishonourable actions occur in war, & that's what should be judged - the behaviour & motivations of the individuals concerned. Judgements based only on how the battle turns out - 'ends justify means' arguments - are not what Tolkien was about. Victory can depend on courage, luck, chance, or 'Grace' (the intervention of supernatural forces - the Eagles of Manwe arriving to turn the tide). Behaviour on the field is to be judged for itself, not for the outcome it leads to.
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