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Old 01-07-2005, 10:35 AM   #1
Child of the 7th Age
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Silmaril Visible souls....

The other day I was reading an article from the NYTimes dated January 15, 1967. . This was based on an interview with Tolkien by Philip Norman, one of the paper's staff reporters who worked in England. This article had a number of interesting things to say, but I was especially struck by one paragraph in which C. S. Lewis was quoted.

Lewis had been asked why Tolkien would ever have chosen to point out morals and moral themes within the context of an "extravagent fantasy". The response by Lewis was direct and to the point:

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"Because, I take it... the real life of men is of that mystical and heroic quality... The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls. And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the Universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?"
The sentence that struck me with greatest force was the one I've placed in italics: "The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls." I cannot think of a better one-sentence description of the characters in the Lord of the Rings than this.

We have talked in several threads about how modern fiction focuses on the interior of the character rather than the story itself. We are led inside the characters' heads to understand the individual's conflicting desires and psychological motives. What is happening inside the character is often very different than what is readily apparent to the naked eye. It is almost as if these characters (perhaps like ourselves?) wear masks.

With Tolkien things are very different. We don't get inside the characters' heads in the same way as with most modern fiction. We may see a bit of what's going on inside Samwise, even less in Frodo. There are some characters where we don't get an inside glimpse at all. Some critics or even contemporary authors such as Philip Pullman have taken issue with the book because of this lack of internal characterization.

My own response is different. When I finish reading the final chapter, I often feel that I know these characters better than many others in modern literature where I have been led inside their heads (including those in His Dark Materials). I think the reason for this is exactly what Lewis says: Tolkien's characters are constructed differently. They are visible souls that wear their inside on their outside. The good ones may be silent but they certainly don't wear masks. We don't have to go inside their heads because the important things are there in plain sight for all to see.

I guess I've got a string of questions connected with this quote. Does anyone else regard the characters in LotR in the same way that Lewis does in this quotation? In what ways do specific Tolkien's characters "wear their inside on their outside"?

Assuming that there is some truth in this assessment, this raises still another set of questions. Is this way of depicting characters something that Tolkien first saw reflected in his own reading of early sources like Beowulf or the Kalevala? Or does it spring from his own world view as a Christian and a Catholic? Or from something else entirely?

And then there is that intriguing question that Lewis himself raises at the end of his quote: "And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the Universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?" Is this true, and is this why so many folk are endlessly drawn back into the story? Can we even understand ourselves as individuals unless we too regard ourselves as heroes in a fairy tale?
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Old 01-07-2005, 02:35 PM   #2
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This might be taking your topic somewhere you didn't quite intend, but what you say about not getting into the characters' heads is quite interesting. You are right, of course, that we do not "See" into any of the characters's minds the way most novels present themselves. Sam and Frodo are the closest we come, and yet they are far more "hidden" than characters in most novels out there.

This is very "incorrect" on the good professor's behalf, but if you think about it, it is a far more realistic way of looking at things. Think about people you meet in real life. Do you "get into their minds"? Of course not. You get to know them through talking with them, and through observing them. In other words, the same way you get to know the characters of The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps it's no wonder then that you seem to know Frodo and the others better at the end of the story than characters from other novels, since you have gotten to understand Frodo in a way that more closely mimics a natural human relationship.
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Old 01-07-2005, 02:59 PM   #3
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I think that it is a real testament to Tolkien's skill at characterization that he could make this style work. I don't need to be inside of Frodo's head to understand what he is feeling, going through, etc. (Same for the other main characters.) I have a very clear idea of these things already by how the characters act, what they say, etc. I doubt very many authors would be able to pull this off. Also interesting is that even though we don't know precisely what the characters are thinking, LotR often draws a much more emotional reaction to the characters than the vast majority of books I have read. Perhaps this is because Tolkien leaves more to the imagination than most other books. In some ways this can be more personal to the individual because in realizing these characters thoughts and feelings we can apply our own past situations to theirs.
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Old 01-07-2005, 03:55 PM   #4
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The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls
I think Lewis is referring to a spiritual state rather than a literay device.
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Old 01-09-2005, 04:21 AM   #5
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Formendacil -

That's an interesting point you've made: that in real life we don't get inside anyone's head. Rather, we get to know people and make our judgments by observing and talking with them. Tolkien's narrative essentially gives us a chance to do that in the context of Middle-earth, since we rarely know what a particular character is thinking. Instead, we have to use our brains and native instincts to try and figure out what really lies behind a particular action or the words that come out of a character's mouth.

There is, I think, one other device Tolkien uses to reveal the souls of his characters without actual stating what is going on inside their heads. We're frequently given the chance to look through the eyes of another character in the book and share his observations. This particularly seems the case in regard to Frodo. There are two passages that are among my favorites. In both scenes, the reader gains a moving glimpse of Frodo through the eyes of a companion. It is essentially a glimpse of some unseen battles being fought there.

The first occurs in Rivendell where Frodo is recovering from his wound. Frodo wakes up and finds Gandalf sitting in his room. The two begin to talk. But in the middle of the conversation we are told that Gandalf came closer to the bed to observe the hobbit and noted "a hint of as it were of transparency" about Frodo, "and especially about the left hand that lay outside the coverlet." Gandalf suddenly begins speaking not to Frodo, but to himself.

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Still that must be expected. He is not half through yet , and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.
The second incident is in the chapter "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit." This time, Samwise is the observer and Frodo is asleep. Sam remembers seeing Frodo asleep in Rivendell when he had watched over him as he lay in bed gravely wounded:

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Then as he had kept watch Sam had noticed that at times a light seemed to be shining faintly within; but now the light was even clearer and stronger. Frodo's face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiselling of the shaping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face was not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that wayto himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmurred, "I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no."
In both passages, we learn something about the narrator--in one case Gandalf and in the other Samwise. But we are given even more insights into Frodo. The final sentence in Gandalf's quotation is, in effect, comparing Frodo with the Phial of Galadriel: "a glass filled with a clear light". In the second, what is striking uis that Frodo's face looked fine and old and etched with wrinkles. By all reckoning, this should not be happening to Frodo: the power of the Ring is such as to make one unnaturally young, taut, and stretched. But apparently there are other things going on underneath that Sam and Gandalf describe for us.

This isn't just a case of discerning psychological motives; it literally gives us a glimpse of Frodo's soul.

Drigel - I certainly agree that Lewis was referring to a moral or spiritual state when he uses a term like "visible souls". And I think the two passages mentioned above are clear instances of that. These are not the only ones that could be cited, just two of my favorites. A lot of Aragorn's characterization is also accomplished this way.

I do think both avenues are worthy of attention. By searching out and studying a "literary device", we have an idea how Tolkien technically achieved what he wanted to do. By looking at what is actually contained in those passages, we invariably run into the element that you describe as a "spritual state".


Firefoot - The whole idea of blank spaces is fascinating. Tolkien seems to have been strangely attracted to blank spaces as a way to encourage readers to use their imaginations!

We've been told time and time again that perhaps one of the reasons JRRT didn't finish Silm is that he couldn't bear to fill in all those mysterious blank spaces that existed in the LotR narrative. In the Letters, Tolkien talks about the reader's joy in seeing a distant mountain where you can only make out the barest of outlines. It is grand and mysterious, and only half understood. By publishing Silm, he would be dispelling some of that mystery: the half-understood vistas would be filled in.

LotR is full of stories and allusions that the reader will only half comprehend unless he/she has read and understood the wider Legendarium. Apparently, part of Tolkien wanted to leave it that way. That's quite an extraordinary sentiment to express when so much of his earlier energies had been devoted to trying to get the thing finished and published!

What your own statement suggests is that JRRT's love of mysterious blanks went beyond history to the characters themselves. By drawing down a discreet veil over inner thoughts, he in effect created internal "blanks" over which the reader could ponder at length. It was essentially the same technique that he used to lay bare tiny slivers of history, but never the whole thing. I've never heard it expressed quite this way before...
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Old 01-09-2005, 07:33 AM   #6
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We have talked in several threads about how modern fiction focuses on the interior of the character rather than the story itself. We are led inside the characters' heads to understand the individual's conflicting desires and psychological motives.
I think that sometimes it is a bit of a myth that all modern fiction focusses on the psychological motives of characters. What in reality tends to happen is that it focusses on the psychological motives of one or maybe two main characters, the protagonists. And in LotR it would be difficult to identify a definite protagonist. If we had to choose, then it might well be Frodo as the tale is at its heart the story of his journey to Mordor and his mission. When we do see interior insights then these do tend to be of Frodo. We see his dreams quite regularly, and what could be more personal than that?

LotR has a whole multitude of characters, so we do not need to see their interior thoughts as much as we would if it was a novel focussing on only a handful of characters; there is much opportunity to demonstrate motives and characteristics through dialogue and reactions of the many other characters. If it were just about Frodo, or even just about the Fellowship then we would need to have more interior thoughts written about as there would be less chance to have these represented by the multitudes of other people.

It is also a tale of action and movement, in contrast to what might be the polar opposite, Virginia Woolf, who writes of personal thoughts, feelings and reactions. LotR is in effect a pro-active work, while Woolf's work is reactive.

As for visible souls - I think every character in literature is in some way a 'visible soul'. We see more of literary characters than we could ever hope to see of our fellow human beings. But what intrigues me is the question of whether these souls are really aspects of the writer's soul becoming manifest on the page?
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Old 01-11-2005, 11:53 AM   #7
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Of logotherapy and literature...

I was terribly bored the other day, and discovered on the shelf in my basement a curious-looking book, entitled Man's Seach for Meaning by one Viktor E. Frankl. Being of a philosophical mind when the notion strikes me, I picked it up and read it through until I finished at 1 AM (much to my chagrin when I had to get up for school several hours later!). Yet in the morning I started thinking about what I had read, and surprisingly got some coherent thought out of my early-morning musings.

The author of the book was a psychologist who was put in a concentration camp during WWII. The first half of the book outlines his experiences and impressions, as well as notes of his feelings and the behavior of those around him. Through these experiences, he developed what he calls "logotherapy," and explains as pychological therapy by finding meaning in life and actions.

Most of the book was pretty interesting, but otherwise irrelevant to LotR. One section stood out to me, though, towards the end when I was getting bleary-eyed but determined to finish. Frankl says that oftentimes, people apply stereotypes to others, applying the term "pan-determinism" to this idea that people will always react in a given way due to their conditioning, personalities, or previous actions. He denounces this, saying:

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Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. ... One of the main features of human existence in the capacity to rise above such conditions and transcend them.
As recently discussed, we are not given the ability to see into the characters of LotR, yet we feel as though we have known them forever by the time the story is over. We can be almost positive about what many of the characters will do in a given circumstance, perhaps with the exception of Gollum. Gollum, I think, is the best example of Frankl's view; he has the ability to change or repent, and very nearly does once. However, most of the characters go through changes which are not complete turnarounds for them -- they grow rather than be altered.

Frankl goes on to cite an example of a doctor who worked fanatically for the Nazis, but later in life was reported to be "the best comrade you can image," who "lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard." Does this sort of thing happen all the time? Probably not, nor does it really occur in LotR. The characters are the visible souls, or perhaps embodiments of virtues: Sam, for example, is practically the embodiment of loyalty.

Child wrote:

Quote:
And then there is that intriguing question that Lewis himself raises at the end of his quote: "And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the Universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?" Is this true, and is this why so many folk are endlessly drawn back into the story? Can we even understand ourselves as individuals unless we too regard ourselves as heroes in a fairy tale?
Again I will draw from another of Frankl's ideas: that suffering can be noble and made less miserable if one has something for which he is truly willing to suffer (this does not mean that one ought to make a martyr of himself for no reason). The characters of LotR go through a great deal, and through this are laid bare to us. They manage to rise above their hardships and triumph, though, and we see that it all was worth it in the end. Frankl says that sometimes to suffer is to spare one you love from suffering, and this makes it bearable. We can see this in Frodo, who has to experience horrors in order to save the rest of Middle-earth.

EDIT: Perhaps we see these individuals who risk everything in pursuit of a mission, goal, or belief, and it helps us strengthen our own resolve. It certainly is a comforting thought to realize that the struggle can be worth it in the end. Also, in response to Child's last question, regarding ourselves as "heroes in a fairy tale" could make things easier for us. Although in LotR there is some doubt among certain characters about the right choice of action (such as Aragorn at Amon Hen), many of the characters, as well as those in other such tales, often seem to have this unshakable will and understanding of what they must do. Perhaps it is that we wish we had this ability to know ourselves well enough to be so sure in our actions. Fairy tale heroes can be great warriors or little hobbits; either way, they demonstrate valor, courage, loyalty, and many other virtues, all the best qualities of people. They may have a fatal flaw, but they still are good people, and readers want to see them triumph.If we regard ourselves as these fairy tale characters we may find that we too try to live up to these virtues, thinking more of our actions in the big scheme of things. I don't know if imagining oneself as a fairy tale hero is a logical or sensible thing to do, but if it makes you a better person then I'm all for it.

Last edited by Encaitare; 01-11-2005 at 03:10 PM. Reason: Just wanted to add a bit at the end there...
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Old 01-12-2005, 07:51 PM   #8
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Tolkien

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The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls. - C.S. Lewis
Child, thank you for starting this thread. The insight is positively seismic for me.

Quote:
...modern fiction focuses on the interior of the character rather than the story itself. ... Tolkien's characters are constructed differently. - Child
This is a critical insight. So often Tolkien is criticized for doing poor, or not enough, characterization. What is being said here is that, in fantasy, a different type of characterization is being used. But what is it? I'll attempt an answer below.

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Does anyone else regard the characters in LotR in the same way that Lewis does in this quotation? - Child
In a word, yes. I do. Happily.

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In what ways do specific Tolkien's characters "wear their inside on their outside"? - Child
I cannot think of a character that does not! One might suggest that those who use guile keep something hidden, but actually, the guile is one of the key attributes of their character, such as Saruman and Gollum, for example. Boromir uses guile at Amon Hen when trying to get the Ring from Frodo. There is one single instance of guile used in a morally upright way in all of LotR (to my knowledge): Gandalf is the one who sets up the plan sending Frodo into Mordor to destroy the Ring because the "wise fool" would never expect that of his enemies. That's guile and knowing your evil enemy's weakness.

Quote:
Is this way of depicting characters something that Tolkien first saw reflected in his own reading of early sources like Beowulf or the Kalevala? Or does it spring from his own world view as a Christian and a Catholic? Or from something else entirely? - Child
You can be confident that such (Beowulfian) character depiction was the norm prior to the modern novel. His faith informs his character depictions in that he portrays them as basically moral beings. Also, my sense is that Tolkien himself was a simple man, without guile. He wore his inside on the outside, if I understand his personal story correctly. Now, to say that Tolkien was without guile is not to say that he was naíve. He knew what the world is really like, or he could never have written LotR. But he was no wearer of masks. And he understood the mind of evil.

Quote:
"And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the Universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?" Is this true, and is this why so many folk are endlessly drawn back into the story? Can we even understand ourselves as individuals unless we too regard ourselves as heroes in a fairy tale? - Child
I think the fairy tale looks at humans as moral beings instead of psychological beings, which seems to be a rather critical difference. More on that below.

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Perhaps it's no wonder then that you seem to know Frodo and the others better at the end of the story than characters from other novels, since you have gotten to understand Frodo in a way that more closely mimics a natural human relationship. - Formendacil
In the modern novel the reader is expected, encouraged even, to identify with the protagonist; to vicariously become the protagonist. In LotR Tolkien invites us to befriend his many protagonists. These are entirely different types of demands upon the reader. The former is an internal, psychological, and burdensome task. The latter is comfortable, delightful, and humane. And thus are we able to say to each other, "I can identify with Frodo/Sam/Faramir best."

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I doubt very many authors would be able to pull this off. - Firefoot
I strongly disagree. This is the way literature used to be written before the current characterization vogue. I cut my literary teeth on Tolkien and without realizing it, when I started writing, this was how I wrote. I have gone through a good four years of people telling me I'm doing it all wrong and need to learn how to do deep characterization, as it is so-called. Now that I am conscious of the answer to the deep characterization vogue (thanks again, Child!), I will work the techniques I have been using all along, and defend them against the current vogue.

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...modern fiction focuses on the psychological motives of ... one or maybe two main characters, the protagonists. And in LotR it would be difficult to identify a definite protagonist. - Lalwendë
Quite. It's in the nature of characterization for fairy story, in which each character is used to mirror the others. Each character represents a type. This does not mean that the character is two-dimensional; absolutely not! But it does mean that loyal Sam is going to be a useful mirror for traitorous Gollum, for example.

Quote:
LotR has a whole multitude of characters, so we do not need to see their interior thoughts as much as we would if it was a novel focussing on only a handful of characters; there is much opportunity to demonstrate motives and characteristics through dialogue and reactions of the many other characters. If it were just about Frodo, or even just about the Fellowship then we would need to have more interior thoughts written about as there would be less chance to have these represented by the multitudes of other people. - Lalwendë
This was very well said.

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...most of the characters [in LotR] go through changes which are not complete turnarounds for them -- they grow rather than be altered. - Encaitare
Yes.

The fundamental difference seems to be that in the modern novel, characters are at base psychological creatures, progressing from unhealth to health, whereas in LotR, and other fantasy that does it right (ex: Narnia Chronicles), characters are at base moral creatures, progressing from immaturity to maturity. This is Bilbo's journey in The Hobbit. Same with Merry and Pippin. Frodo goes through this, as Child has pointed out already. Aragorn's story spans beyond the timeline of LotR, such that his maturation can only be seen in the appendices, but it's there. This process of maturation seems most often to hinge upon moral choices. Bilbo takes pity on Gollum. Later, when Bilbo has to rescue the Dwarves on numerous occasions, his mindset is usually "looks like it's up to me" - which is a moral choice - taking responsibility. Aragorn choose courage and toil and hardship over denying his lineage, taking the easy way through life, and merely surviving. Of all the characters, it seems that Sam matures the least; and hardly needs to. He is already the accomplished "Bat-man" after the likes of WW1; that he chooses to accept his role as Frodo's helper (moral choice), and does finally take pity on Gollum - which saves the quest.
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Old 01-13-2005, 08:30 AM   #9
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Wonderfull submissions here! I think if I were to see some of you guys in person, I might see a trace of light around your brows..
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Old 01-13-2005, 10:31 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by drigel
Wonderfull submissions here! I think if I were to see some of you guys in person, I might see a trace of light around your brows..
That would be from the nano-torch I have cunningly hidden behind my right ear to enable sneaky reading of Tolkien whatever the light conditions...

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Originally Posted by lmp
It's in the nature of characterization for fairy story, in which each character is used to mirror the others. Each character represents a type. This does not mean that the character is two-dimensional; absolutely not! But it does mean that loyal Sam is going to be a useful mirror for traitorous Gollum, for example.
Now Gollum I always think of as a 'special case'. Much more than a mere 'monster', he cannot be defined squarely as evil, nor can he be said to be good, and he is the one character we truly get into the head of, often distressingly so. If any character in LotR could be said to be 'modern' it is Gollum. He's complex and intangible and yet in the great tradition of characters who can chill our blood.
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Old 01-13-2005, 11:26 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by lmp
the fairy tale looks at humans as moral beings instead of psychological beings,
My turn to be thunderstruck. Brilliant.
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Old 01-13-2005, 12:53 PM   #12
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Mark: ditto!

Here we have a fairy tale, in all it's gritty reality. And for the 1st time as I see it, we have a glimpse of the moral battle that is going on inside the players. There could be some psychological layer as well, but....

But when we are talking about Gods and angels bestriding the green earth with hobbits, men, and ents, aren't we are already in a state of being unlike we have here today? In this primordial struggle, how can it not be anything other than a moral dilemma?
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Old 01-13-2005, 01:32 PM   #13
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Silmaril

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
... he is the one character we truly get into the head of, often distressingly so.
I would say that there are a few, albeit a limited number, of characters who might be described as having "psychological depth" in the modern sense, even though we do not "get into their heads" as such (or not all of them anyway). But, consistent in many ways with the thoughts expressed on this thread, they are invariably those who are, to one degree other, morally ambiguous. In addition to Gollum, I have in mind Boromir, Eowyn and Denethor.
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Old 01-13-2005, 04:55 PM   #14
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Very interesting thread Child.

I think that perhaps Tolkien is doing something far more radical than we have yet recognized here. So far, the discussion seems to be proceeding in and from the assumption of Tolkien’s characters as individuals. That is, they are individual characters who may not be presented in a psychological manner, but they are still individuals. I’m not so sure that this is the most effective way to regard them, particularly given how much of their characterization they owe to works like Beowulf.

Quite simply, the whole concept of the individual is a very recent invention. The idea that the “real me” is some kind of floating consciousness or conscience “inside” my mind is an alien thought to worlds like the ones from which Tolkien drew most of his inspiration. The idea that one’s “true” or “real” identity is internal and not external was anathema to the world view of the Anglo-Saxons.

To this point we’ve been characterizing the debate in terms of modern “psychological” models of self in opposition to more ancient “moral” models. I think a more accurate way to put this, however, would be that ‘these days’ our stories (and our lives) tend to focus on how we are in conflict with ourselves: that the real battles we fight are with the inner-self, and that that’s where change is important. I cite the flood of self help books and television shows that try to help us be better people by altering our perceptions of ourselves, of boosting our self-confidence, of getting ‘in touch’ with our own feelings or ‘inner child’ or whatever. These all spring from the idea that we are individuals, that we are being primarily defined by out own unique sense of who we are: that our identity is built around and dependent upon the “I”.

Interesting to put that next to the context of the characters in Middle-earth. The characters who think in terms of self-determination, or even self-improvement, are people like Saruman, Boromir and – most disturbingly – Sauron (with his obsession over the Eye/I). These are the real individuals in the text, in the modern sense, insofar as their identity is defined by what they want, what they desire, what they think of themselves, what they want others to think of themselves. The heroes of the book are just not individuals in the sense we think of individuality. They are not defined by their inner core, by what they are but by what they do.

Back to Beowulf. Beowulf was not an individual who struggled with and overcame his own inner doubts and demons to become a better person. He fought three monsters and defeated them. He is thus, by contemporary standards, a very two-dimensional character insofar as there is no sense of individuality to him. He is a hero like all the heroes before him, and a pattern for all the heroes to come. I find very much the same circumstance and view in LotR. I simply do not try to understand the characters as individuals, but as parts of a larger fabric. Frodo, on his own, makes no sense and is, to be blunt, quite boring – until he is placed alongside his foils/parallel characters: Sam, Aragorn, Gollum and Sauron. It’s the same for all the characters.

Another literary form that comes to mind is the Romance (like Gawain and the Green Knight – another work with which Tolkien was intimately familiar). In Romance the human condition is explored not through individual characters, but as that condition is expressed in its various modes and parts within the stories of different characters. In LotR, there is no one character who sums up the experience of human life, there’s not even an attempt at this. Instead, that experience is explored by all the characters from their unique perspectives, forcing upon us the necessity of keeping the whole fabric in mind rather than focusing on just one character at a time. The radical thing about LotR for me is that it highlights the arrogance of modern constructions of self: we really think that, on some level, the truth of the human condition can be realized by and through intense scrutiny of just one person’s life: usually our own. We are the centres of our own truth, and the basis upon which meaning can be found.

What a lot of pressure to place on an individual! Tolkien has a different view. The human experience is not found in each of his characters, it is expressed by all of them.
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Old 01-13-2005, 07:05 PM   #15
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If any character in LotR could be said to be 'modern' it is Gollum. He's complex and intangible and yet in the great tradition of characters who can chill our blood. - Lalwendë
You do raise my hopes for my own humble story, since I also have one very complex character amongst a slew of mirror types. What do you mean by intangible?

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You helped me to arrive at this insight, mark.

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I would say that there are a few, albeit a limited number, of characters who might be described as having "psychological depth" in the modern sense, even though we do not "get into their heads" as such (or not all of them anyway). But, consistent in many ways with the thoughts expressed on this thread, they are invariably those who are, to one degree other, morally ambiguous. In addition to Gollum, I have in mind Boromir, Eowyn and Denethor. - The Saucepan Man
Eowyn?

I do find it interesting how your comment dovetails with Fordim's.

[quote]The radical thing about LotR for me is that it highlights the arrogance of modern constructions of self... - Fordim Hedgethistle/quote]

Lucid. Brilliant. Bull's eye. Fordim, you have said what I was moving toward, but hadn't quite made it to yet. The term I was thinking of in this context is modern self-centeredness. The trouble is that we are stuck with this modern way of seeing ourselves. Is fairy story an antedote? (among other things)
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Old 01-14-2005, 05:14 PM   #16
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Lenses

Note: Bear with me, please, because this post is quite disorganized, and hopefully not entirely tangential; but I do have a point even if I haven't succeeded in making it clear.

I read this thread through the lens of a recent philosophy of mind class. The philosophical study of the mind/self/soul/what-have-you is concerned with basically pinning down the location of the self, whether that be internal (like in the modern psychological model) or external--although the word I'm looking for here may be something more like pervasive, because I don't think that the Anglo Saxons referenced below would have thought of themselves as existing like clothing on a body either.

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Quite simply, the whole concept of the individual is a very recent invention. The idea that the “real me” is some kind of floating consciousness or conscience “inside” my mind is an alien thought to worlds like the ones from which Tolkien drew most of his inspiration. The idea that one’s “true” or “real” identity is internal and not external was anathema to the world view of the Anglo-Saxons. -Fordim Hedgethistle
Current philosophy is all in a twist because who knows how many centuries ago someone drew a hard and fast line between mind and body and now the concepts have been alienated from each other. In fiction it is no longer enough to portray the character through the minds and eyes of others, since they see only the body. In order to portray the locus of the self one has to describe the mind. Even the reductionist schools of thought that portray the mind as an offshoot of the body, or as identical to it are still thinking in terms of a mind and body dichotomy.

In Tolkien's characters this dichotomy and need to portray the inner self from the first person perspective is absent because the distinction between their internal and external selves simply does not exist.

At first I thought that the Lewis quote:
Quote:
The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls.
Implied that Lewis was viewing only characters this way, with this lack of distinction, but when I looked more carefully at the quote in its entirety:
Quote:
"Because, I take it... the real life of men is of that mystical and heroic quality... The imagined beings have their inside on the outside; they are visible souls. And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the Universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?"
I think there may be more to the sentiment than that characters are their souls. It seems to me that he is saying the same thing about the real life of man. We are the characters in the fairy story as well. When Lewis says the real life of men is of that mystical and heroic quality, the quality in reference is (and it's hard to tell exactly without having the whole context) something shared with the characters in the fairy story.

Tolkien and Lewis both consistently emphasize the similarities of life to fairy tale. Here is another example of this, where toward the end of the quote Lewis says (to paraphrase) "you haven't seen life until you recognize it for what it is: and this is it." I think it is more than likely that he would also say "you don't know yourself until you recognize yourself in this mirror." Perhaps we also are intended to be seen as visible souls.

Sophia
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Old 01-14-2005, 07:21 PM   #17
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Mmmmm nice thread,

I especialy liked Fordim's comment on the difference between scrutinising someone's thoughts (or words to some extent) and their actions.

As Child pointed out, there seem to be occasions where a character's soul is literally visible, I was reminded of a previous thread, see below-

The light in Frodo's face
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Old 01-14-2005, 08:51 PM   #18
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As Child pointed out, there seem to be occasions where a character's soul is literally visible, I was reminded of a previous thread, see below-
ty Rumil! short and sweet..

I have been ineptly driving at that point for a while - but I am lazy.. sigh, I had to poke and prod for a while at this thread to get to that out.
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Old 01-14-2005, 09:12 PM   #19
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Now Gollum I always think of as a 'special case'. Much more than a mere 'monster', he cannot be defined squarely as evil, nor can he be said to be good, and he is the one character we truly get into the head of, often distressingly so. - Lalwendë
This has been bugging me since I first read it. I don't think it's accurate. I don't ever remember reading any thoughts of Gollum or Sméagol that weren't actually spoken by him.

I'm close to being motivated to a re-read of LotR just to take special note of this one aspect! What characters does Tolkien "get into the head" of? We know this happens with Gandalf once, at Rivendell, as has been pointed out on this thread, but Gandalf's thinking about Frodo rather than revealing much about himself. The instance with Sam is similar. So do we actually "get into the head" of any character at all in LotR? I don't think so. I'd be happy to see some evidence to the contrary, if anybody has it handy.... - LMP
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Old 01-14-2005, 09:56 PM   #20
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Tolkien

Some quick research has shown a couple places where we can get inside of the characters' heads. Not many, but not none, either.

In the chapter The Uruk-Hai:
Quote:
'Now,' thought Pippin, 'if only it takes that ugly fellow a little while to get his troop under control, I've got a chance.'
In the chapter Minas Tirith:
Quote:
Pippin looked at him [Beregond]: tall and proud and noble, as all the men that he had yet seen in that land; and with a glitter in his eye as he thought of the battle. 'Alas! my own hand feels as light as a feather,' he thought, but he said nothing. 'A pawn did Gandalf say? Perhaps; but on the wrong chessboard.'
At the start of the chapter The Houses of Healing:
Quote:
Slowly the lights of the torches in front of him flickered and went out, and he was walking in a darkness; and he [Merry] thought, 'This is a tunnel leading to a tomb; there we shall stay forever.'
Same chapter:
Quote:
'I'll never get him there,' thought Pippin. 'Is there no one to help me? I can't leave him here.'
...(Pippin talks to Bergil)...
'I'd better wait here,' thought Pippin.
At the end of the chapter The Black Gate Opens:
Quote:
Blackness and stench and crushing pain came upon Pippin, and his mind fell away into a great darkness.
'So it ends as I guessed it would,' his thought said, even as it fluttered away; and it laughed a little within him ere it fled, almost gay it seemed to be casting off at last all doubt and care and fear. And then even as it winged away into forgetfulness it heard voices, and they seemed to be crying in some forgotten world far above:
'The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!'
For one mormnt more Pippin's thought hovered. 'Bilbo!' it said. 'But no! That came in his tale, long long ago. This is my tale, and it is ended now. Good-bye!' And his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more.
Interesting how most of these are Pippin, the exception being one of Merry. Also, most of them come from Book 5. There are places where Sam is talking to himself, at the end of Book 4 and the beginning of Book 6, but I don't know that you could call that getting inside of his head - he is revealing his thought processes, but vocally.
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Old 01-15-2005, 05:17 AM   #21
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Lalwende has already pointed out that we do get inside the heads of various characters - principally Frodo - through their dreams. Yet these 'dreams' seem mostly not to be the workings of their unconscious mind's, working through old memories of the day, or due to the hopes & fears the individual characters may have, but almost to be 'communications' from another 'reality', or because of some 'echo' of past or present events the individual is tapping into. Faramir & Boromir's dream is an example of the first kind, Frodo's dream in Bombadil's house of the second. Of curse, there are examples of what we could call 'normal' dreams - Sam dreaming of the overgrown garden of Bag End & looking for his pipe for instance

It does seem as though the characters have very 'undeveloped' subconsciouses though. Its as if their conscious minds merely 'float above' the depths of what Jung called the Collective Unconscious, the realm of the Archetypes or 'gods. Yet the character's waking consciousness seems a seperate thing from the spiritual dimension in Tolkien's world. Tolkien clearly doesn't think of the Valar as having only psychological reality.

Perhaps this is one reason why their souls are so 'visible' - this is pre-Freudian psychology - closer to Jung but closest of all to Catholic theology. The Saints & Angel are not 'Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious', but living beings present & active within their own dimension.

This is not so much a 'fairy tale' view of the human mind as a medieval (& pre-medieval one. And perhaps its due to the fact that up to recent times we lived in greater harmony with our environment, & therefore knew who & what we are in our essential nature. The 'sub-conscious' with its mass of 'complexes, 'drives', hidden motives, etc, may be simply the result of the loss of our ability to live in harmony with nature. In fact, perhaps the existence of a subconscious of any kind is a symbol of what's wrong with us.

I suspect that the reason the characters in Middle earth have 'visible souls' is due to simple fact that there was nothing within them to obscure their souls.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim
The characters who think in terms of self-determination, or even self-improvement, are people like Saruman, Boromir and – most disturbingly – Sauron (with his obsession over the Eye/I). These are the real individuals in the text, in the modern sense, insofar as their identity is defined by what they want, what they desire, what they think of themselves, what they want others to think of themselves. The heroes of the book are just not individuals in the sense we think of individuality. They are not defined by their inner core, by what they are but by what they do.
I'm not sure I'd include Boromir in this, but Sauron & Saruman I wonder if these characters (& perhaps Gollum & Ted Sandyman as well) are victims of this new 'mental illness' of developing a 'sub conscious' because of their seperating of themselves from nature....
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Old 01-15-2005, 06:06 AM   #22
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'Tis time I explained myself!

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Originally Posted by Me
Now Gollum I always think of as a 'special case'. Much more than a mere 'monster', he cannot be defined squarely as evil, nor can he be said to be good, and he is the one character we truly get into the head of, often distressingly so.
Quote:
Originally Posted by lmp
This has been bugging me since I first read it. I don't think it's accurate. I don't ever remember reading any thoughts of Gollum or Sméagol that weren't actually spoken by him.
Quote:
Originally Posted by lmp
What do you mean by intangible?
Firstly, I don't think we actually have to see a character's thoughts represented as they might appear in their own mind; we don't have to see "X thought that...." or "Y was thinking...". In the case of Gollum, we see through his behaviour how his mind works. If we are talking about characters with 'visible souls', then he above all other characters really does have a visible soul; his actions speak volumes about what is happening within his head/heads. Perhaps this is something to do with the tormented soul that he is, in that he cannot help but act on what his mind tells him to do, but we certainly get a deep insight into his mind and motivation.

By "intangible" I mean that we cannot quite 'touch' on the essence of his being, his purpose if you like. He is at once a monster but also ultimately (and unwittingly) acts as a hero; and by turns we see his potential for good and then are suddenly shown how this might not be the case. I think we are encouraged to question him, whether intentionally or not is another matter. Other characters do seem to have a clearly defined role or purpose, even where they exist in a morally 'grey' area, while the purpose of Gollum's existence is not as clear. Sometimes to me he seems to be a character 'apart', pursuing his own psychological needs while the rest of Middle Earth goes on about him.
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Old 01-15-2005, 09:46 PM   #23
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Silmaril Consonances

Fordim Hedgethistle:
Quote:
...the whole concept of the individual is a very recent invention. The idea that one’s “true” or “real” identity is internal and not external was anathema to the world view of the Anglo-Saxons. ... To this point we’ve been characterizing the debate in terms of modern “psychological” models of self in opposition to more ancient “moral” models. ... ‘these days’ our stories (and our lives) tend to focus on how we are in conflict with ourselves. ... The heroes of the book are just not individuals in the sense we think of individuality. They are not defined by their inner core, by what they are but by what they do.In Romance the human condition is explored not through individual characters, but as that condition is expressed in its various modes and parts within the stories of different characters. The radical thing about LotR for me is that it highlights the arrogance of modern constructions of self.
Fordim, I think you, davem, Sophia, Lalwendë and I are saying similar things, coming at it from different angles. I wonder if we can between us come to the basis that underlies the whole?

Sophia the Thunder Mistress:
Quote:
Current philosophy is all in a twist because who knows how many centuries ago someone drew a hard and fast line between mind and body and now the concepts have been alienated from each other. In Tolkien's characters this dichotomy and need to portray the inner self from the first person perspective is absent because the distinction between their internal and external selves simply does not exist.
Sophia, you make the same point here that I do in the Mythic Unities thread, in my first post. Please bear with me as I arrogantly quote myself:
Quote:
Mythic fantasy is story that contains the stuff of myth, legend, and fairy tale; it works like waking dream and nightmare; in it, concrete and abstract, previously distinguished, have been reintegrated; it is apprehended by the reader as a unity of meaning and being; the signal of this apprehension is a sense of wonder or a thrill of horror, or both.
Thus the mind and body are distinguished in modern life, and LotR has unified them. Check out Mythic Unities if you want more on this.

davem
Quote:
Perhaps this is one reason why their souls are so 'visible' - this is pre-Freudian psychology - closer to Jung but closest of all to Catholic theology. The Saints & Angel are not 'Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious', but living beings present & active within their own dimension. ... This is not so much a 'fairy tale' view of the human mind as a medieval & pre-medieval one.
Is not the medieval or pre-medieval the "stuff" of fairy tale?

Lalwendë
Quote:
I don't think we actually have to see a character's thoughts represented as they might appear in their own mind; we don't have to see "X thought that...." or "Y was thinking...". In the case of Gollum, we see through his behaviour how his mind works. If we are talking about characters with 'visible souls', then he above all other characters really does have a visible soul; his actions speak volumes about what is happening within his head/heads.
I quite agree with your major point, Lalwendë. Now to quibble. Sorry to belabor a point, but the difference between evoking character by behavior, versus evoking character by "going into the head", is worthy of careful distinction. The latter is "going into the head", the former is not.

Quote:
By "intangible" I mean that we cannot quite 'touch' on the essence of his being, his purpose if you like.

He has been enslaved by the Ring for so long that his purpose is to serve the Ring. He has almost lost all hold on his own will. Isn't this the essence of his being at the time of the events of the book?

As I said above, I think Fordim's these days versus those days, davem's post-Freudian versus pre-Freudian, Sophia's internal versus pervasive, and my own psychological versus moral, are different subsets of the same discussion.

What's at the core? Is it linguistic? Philosophical? Literary versus scientific? Theological (heaven forbid!)? Faith versus Unbelief (uh oh)?

recklessly yours, LMP

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Old 01-16-2005, 05:52 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by LmP
Is not the medieval or pre-medieval the "stuff" of fairy tale?
You've set me off on a strange train of thought...

It is now but it wasn't then. That was the way people thought, the way they understood themselves & others. If it is the 'stuff of fairy tale then maybe so are we. But that opens the question up, because then we have to ask, if we're the stuff of fairy tale, if fairy tale is a true reflection of our psyches, then what has happened to the world. How have we ended up where we are now? In fact, another question occurs - are we actually living in a fairy tale right now - a dark, unpleasant one in many ways, I admit, but with gleams of light & flashes of true beauty for those with eyes to see it.

Perhaps what we call 'reality' isn't all that 'real' after all. Perhaps what we think of as our hard nosed, materialistic, 'Freudian' reality is the bad dream of we wanderers in Faerie, from which, with luck (& a little blessing) we may soon awaken. Maybe this is the 'fantasy'. Perhaps we respond to Middle earth so strongly not because it offers an escape into a fantasy world, but because it offers an escape out of one, & an 'awakening' from our bad dream...
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Old 01-16-2005, 06:15 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by lmp
Sorry to belabor a point, but the difference between evoking character by behavior, versus evoking character by "going into the head", is worthy of careful distinction. The latter is "going into the head", the former is not.
This would depend entirely upon the character. With Gollum, evoking character by representing his behaviour does work. Gollum is not like other characters; he is suffering with an intense psychological disorder or illness. When I think about how all his impulses are worn on his exterior, how he follows his urges and says what is going on in his thoughts the condition that comes to mind is Tourette's. This is a condition which leads people to say exactly what is in their head, to display impulsive behaviours (e.g. repetitious acts and sounds, rather like Gollum's swallowing noise which gives him his nickname). Compare this to how someone without the condition might behave - all these impulses are kept internalised. So Gollum does display his thoughts and psyche, we see what he is thinking because he simply cannot keep those thoughts internalised.

I don't know enough about Freud to thoroughly explain it, but it is as though Gollum's Id is completely on show.

I think you say below just how far he has lost control of his own impulses:

Quote:
Originally Posted by lmp
He has been enslaved by the Ring for so long that his purpose is to serve the Ring. He has almost lost all hold on his own will. Isn't this the essence of his being at the time of the events of the book?
The strange thing about the Ring taking hold of him is that ultimately he does not serve the Ring. Something, whether his own character, fate or something else entirely, takes away the Ring's control of him.

I think he serves a peculiar purpose in the books. Gollum is like a mirror of the darker, more uncontrollable side to ourselves. He serves to make us question our ideas of right and wrong, of pity and justice. He isn't just there to scare us.
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Old 01-17-2005, 05:47 PM   #26
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Tolkien Maybe it's delusional, but maybe the delusion's to be preferred...

Quote:
Originally posted by davem: It is now but it wasn't then.
Come to think of it, when then was "now", there was no such thing as a fairy tale. It was the "ferny brae", or whatever the name was for any given neck of wherever.

Quote:
... if we're the stuff of fairy tale, if fairy tale is a true reflection of our psyches, then what has happened to the world?
We have been splintered, cut into parts. We are not whole anymore. I'm not talking about "the Fall", either. We're an advanced culture with all its distinctions. This is why we hunger for myth; it is whole, and while we are in it, so are we. So imagine living in a myth. Imagine that you believed again, davem. I heard a talk by an author in which she located the universe in the Mind of God; hence, we are figments of God's imagination. God being God, we are as real as we feel ourselves to be! God being God, our subcreations are also figments of God's imagination; every bit as real as we are. Tolkien's Middle Earth, with Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Éowen, Lúthien, Beren, etc., are all as real as we are. Delusional? So be it. Maybe I'd rather believe the delusion and be more whole than my contemporary moderns. Maybe after I pass beyond the walls of the world, I will stumble upon Gandalf having a friendly chat with Tolkien. That would be a gift, don't you think?

Quote:
Originally posted by Lalwendë: This would depend entirely upon the character. With Gollum, evoking character by representing his behaviour does work.
Are not all the characters in LotR evoked by representing their behaviours? The greatest difference between Gollum and the characters, for example, of the Fellowship of the Ring, is that his character has been dismantled by the Ring because he has murdered, broken moral law, to have it. The fellowship members, by contrast, remain within themselves because they live out of the natural law of their respective cultures.

By way of covering the possible objections, Boromir does succumb to temporary madness, but through grace or whatever you might wish to call it, he is restored to himself. Frodo also succumbs to temporary madness, such as in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, and also is restored to himself by, his native virtue; he strives against the Ring, having chosen against his will to be its bearer but not its owner, until its strength finally destroys his mind and will at Orodruin.

I imagine that Tourette's has its applicability, as does drug addiction (if you want to follow Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis), but neither example gets to the heart of what's going on in Gollum. His is a moral condition (I almost called it a disease!), and has curdled him right down to his soul. Yes, there is a sliver of Sméagol left, but so weak; so weak.

Quote:
Compare this to how someone without the condition might behave - all these impulses are kept internalised.
But this is not so. Frodo's behavior does show the effects of the Ring. Boromir's grasping attempt to wrest it from Frodo hows its effects. Galadriel (never mind the weirdness of the movie) exhibits in her behavior the effect of the Ring when Frodo offers it to her. More so Gandalf when Frodo offers it to him.

It is true that Gollum cannot keep his thoughts internalized, but it is not a natural condition for the other characters to keep their thoughts internalized either. As the quote describes, they are visible souls.

I am in complete agreement with the final two paragraphs of your post.
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Old 01-17-2005, 06:04 PM   #27
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waking up...

...or falling asleep again?

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"Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will."
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Old 01-18-2005, 01:48 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by LmP
I heard a talk by an author in which she located the universe in the Mind of God; hence, we are figments of God's imagination. God being God, we are as real as we feel ourselves to be! God being God, our subcreations are also figments of God's imagination; every bit as real as we are.
I can accept this idea absolutely. In fact its something Lalwende & I were discussing into the early hours over Christmas. I did read somewhere that its possible to translate 'God created man in His own image as 'God created man in His own imagination' I don't know if that's true, & it does lead into areas of theological enquiry which I'm not qualified to enter.

I suppose all thoughts in God's mind must be 'Real' in an absolute sense - because nothing could be more real - God being the source of all 'Reality'. And if everything exists as thoughts in God's mind, then all those 'thoughts' must have an equal 'Reality' - I'm not saying they have a moral equality, merely an equality of 'being'. Their moral worth would depend, I suppose, on the extent to which they are in harmony with God's essential nature.

Perhaps that's what we respond to in the works of Tolkien - that 'harmony' with the Divine. Tolkien's works help to move us back into a state of harmony with 'God', helping to heal that sense of seperation we feel, of being 'out of synch' with 'something' which for most of us these days is unnameable....

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Come to think of it, when then was "now", there was no such thing as a fairy tale. It was the "ferny brae", or whatever the name was for any given neck of wherever.
I'm reminded of something Bob Stewart said in an interview, about the way we talk about the 'ignorant past'. He made the point that we are currently living in what our decendants will refer to as their 'ignorant past'. I suppose in a sense Faery is eternaly 'there' yet always just out of reach - hence the yearning we feel when we read fairy stories. Perhaps 'Faerie' is that 'harmony' which we feel should be the way of things but isn't.

We are 'thoughts' (of God) subcreating 'thoughts' of our own. I don't know why fractal images have just sprung to mind... Anyway, one could speculate on whether the thoughts of our subcreated characters have an equal 'reality' to our own. God 'dreams 'JRR Tolkien' who 'dreams' Frodo who 'dreams' of White shores under a swift Sunrise...

Unless I'm rambling as usual (& being a 'pest' again )
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Old 01-18-2005, 04:27 AM   #29
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Literary v. Scientific

From littlemanpoet:
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As I said above, I think Fordim's these days versus those days, davem's post-Freudian versus pre-Freudian, Sophia's internal versus pervasive, and my own psychological versus moral, are different subsets of the same discussion.

What's at the core? Is it linguistic? Philosophical? Literary versus scientific? Theological (heaven forbid!)? Faith versus Unbelief (uh oh)?
I read this, and something clicked on in my head. Unfortunately, like so often happens, it clicked right back off again immediately. But on further thought, the one of your options, lmp, which struck a chord with me was literary vs. scientific.

If literature (particularly pre-scientific-revolution literature... perhaps the term I want is "mythic") deals in unities then science deals in dividing things up. The basic presumptions of science (which I don't claim to be an expert on, by any means) involve finding the basis of reality--what it's made of and why it works. Ultimately that boils down to physics, lots of little bits rushing around and hitting each other at angles.

While it's not necessarily difficult to imagine water being H2O and then later to feel like water is the same thing it always was, it's a little more difficult with people. Once you get to dividing complex things up, sometimes it's tough to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Hence the loss of unity contributing to a more internal character development: the outside world of actions is some kind of separate piece.

Nice image with the fractals, davem. Its an image that both fits the idea of subcreation and ties in visually with Tolkien's repeated use of tree motifs.

A bit of a ramble, I'm afraid. But it is 5 a.m.

Sophia
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Old 01-18-2005, 11:00 AM   #30
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Fractional Dimensions and Dreams

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lmp: We have been splintered, cut into parts. We are not whole anymore. I'm not talking about "the Fall", either.
Quote:
davem: And if everything exists as thoughts in God's mind, then all those 'thoughts' must have an equal 'Reality' - I'm not saying they have a moral equality, merely an equality of 'being'.
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davem again: I don't know why fractal images have just sprung to mind...
What an interesting development! By the way, my computer's background image has been a colorful Mandelbrot set for some time now...not to say I'm any kind of expert on fractals, but they would be an interesting concept to add to a discussion of souls, as they are simply fractional dimensions, a cutting in half of dimensions between which can be iterated into infinity and create smaller versions of the same designs in equal complexity. Fractals would be a good illustration of the microcosm and macrocosm, the making in God's image or sub-creation, I suppose. Again, I am no expert, but it was interesting to see the word pop up here!
Quote:
Sophia: Nice image with the fractals, davem. Its an image that both fits the idea of subcreation and ties in visually with Tolkien's repeated use of tree motifs.
Indeed, you said it more succinctly than me!

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lmp: God being God, our subcreations are also figments of God's imagination; every bit as real as we are. Tolkien's Middle Earth, with Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Éowen, Lúthien, Beren, etc., are all as real as we are.
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mark12_30: ...or falling asleep again?
Yet another relevance to my everyday life, but am I surprised? Not in the least! In the course of digging out old belongings and re-packing them, I came upon a rather tatty old abridged edition (that is to say, only one volume) of Fraser's Golden Bough and decided it would make great bedtime reading. Anyway, one section of this work tells how some cultures consider dreams to be simply the soul travelling outside the body during sleep and having its own adventures. Thus what happens in dreams is absolutely real, as real as the waking world.

I always like it when threads enter the realm of the weird and especially when they incorporate aspects of my visible surroundings...spooky!

Cheers!
Lyta
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Old 01-18-2005, 01:18 PM   #31
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Absolutes and archetypes

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lmp: We have been splintered, cut into parts. We are not whole anymore. I'm not talking about "the Fall", either.
I read that and consider the anthropoligical aspect. The characters presented to us in LOTR, Silm, et al are to me an idea that we all derive from in bits and pieces. The farther back we go, the more heroic the time, and the more total the individual is.
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Old 01-18-2005, 01:21 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by lmp
Are not all the characters in LotR evoked by representing their behaviours?
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Originally Posted by lmp
It is true that Gollum cannot keep his thoughts internalized, but it is not a natural condition for the other characters to keep their thoughts internalized either. As the quote describes, they are visible souls.
It's almost as if the discussion has come around full circle. I think that all the characters do display their 'souls' through their actions, and through their interactions; I think that there is not such a great contrast with 'modern' fiction, it is that instead of seeing the internalised thoughts of one protagonist, we see the psychological motivation of many characters, but expressed instead through representation of their thoughts in action and speech.

I did single out Gollum as we see more of his internal thought than we do of other characters, as he simply cannot keep his thoughts and, more importantly, basic impulses, to himself. Thus we see Gollum's soul truly laid bare; he is a raw character, brutal and immoral yet somehow fragile too. It's no surprise that he haunts the thoughts of many readers as somehow he reflects that most vulnerable and dark part of us all, that which is vulnerable to evil and corruption.

I like the way you bring in Frodo here. In Frodo we can see the beginnings of what happened to Gollum, but I do question how much of the effects can be down to the innate qualities of both Gollum and Frodo, as ultimately, the effects are the same, this 'evil' corrupts anyone who succumbs, no matter how good their intentions are. And I'm sure there is some kind of lesson in that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
We are 'thoughts' (of God) subcreating 'thoughts' of our own. I don't know why fractal images have just sprung to mind...
This is the infinite potential of time. We are here at one point and if we go this way then many things may happen but if we go the other way then many other things may happen. It might be termed fate, but ultimately if we did not go down x path then y could never have happened. Or could it? In the case of Frodo at the cracks of doom, who could have foreseen that Gollum would turn up and thus destroy the ring? It was as though the paths suddenly split but came back in upon themselves.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
I'm reminded of something Bob Stewart said in an interview, about the way we talk about the 'ignorant past'. He made the point that we are currently living in what our decendants will refer to as their 'ignorant past'. I suppose in a sense Faery is eternaly 'there' yet always just out of reach - hence the yearning we feel when we read fairy stories. Perhaps 'Faerie' is that 'harmony' which we feel should be the way of things but isn't.
This is interesting as it hints at a basic fact of the human condition, that we are always looking about us for something which has been 'lost' to us. It might explain art, in that we seek to express the ineffable, or religion, in that we seek to find and construct a reason for the yearning, or even science in that we want to shape that uncertainty and find comfort in it. These are three aspects of human existence which I think are all linked to the soul, and more importantly to the sense of the soul, and to the sense that something is missing, just out of reach. It makes me wonder just how much each and every generation in this world has felt exactly the same as we do.
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Old 01-18-2005, 02:28 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Lyta
Fractals would be a good illustration of the microcosm and macrocosm, the making in God's image or sub-creation, I suppose.
I suppose its about 'reflections' & 'harmonics' & such. 'Being' reiterates itself, creating reflections of itself, & perhaps each reflection is slightly distorted - or may become so...

In that sense the Mandelbrot set is an 'ideal', in that its' 'reflections/harmonics' are perfect copies of itself, however much the design is magnified, or however 'deep' we go. I suppose this would have been Tolkien's aim - to subcreate a world which was a 'perfect' reflection of the 'Truth' - hence his constant seeking to discover 'what really happened'. Its like rather than moving 'inward', into the 'Mandelbrot' set, he was attempting to move 'outward'.

Perhaps (forgive speculation here) we could say that God's movement is 'inward' while our movement is 'outward'. Or God's movement is 'in', 'toward' us, while ours is 'outward', 'toward' 'Him'. (Too many words in quotes ).

Or to look at it another way, subcreation is an attempt to 'earth' the divine, to give it imaginative form, to produce a true (as far as we are able) reflection of the Divine Truth. 'As Above, So Below.' Niggle's single leaf contains the whole of the Tree - like a Mandelbrot set, or like a (real) holgram, in which, if broken, each fragment contains the whole image, but seen from the particular place at which that piece had been.

The fragment contains the whole, but from a unique perspective.....

(Well, this seemed a bit mad, & I'm not sure it makes sense, so I just tossed a coin to decide whether to post it or erase it, & it came up heads, so I'm posting it)
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Old 01-18-2005, 02:54 PM   #34
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Perhaps (forgive speculation here) we could say that God's movement is 'inward' while our movement is 'outward'. Or God's movement is 'in', 'toward' us, while ours is 'outward', 'toward' 'Him'. (Too many words in quotes ).
This is a good way to look at the linear nature of time, and how we experience it. There was only one beginning after all.
great posts here!

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Old 01-18-2005, 02:58 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by davem
Perhaps (forgive speculation here) we could say that God's movement is 'inward' while our movement is 'outward'. Or God's movement is 'in', 'toward' us, while ours is 'outward', 'toward' 'Him'.
And both those movements could be said to work in the opposite way also, depending upon whether God is within or without us. And if we look in are we looking to God as much as we are when we look out? But I think that theology states that we should not look 'in' we should look 'out' to humanity, and there could be a message in that, i.e. that we ought to look not at our own problems and our own selves but to the world around us; this could be relevant in times when all too often we are more concerned with our own bodies or wealth rather than the good of the community.

If both work in the same way then it would be like the helix of DNA, and also like the spiral images of the ancients. And also like theories of the ever expanding and decreasing universe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
The fragment contains the whole, but from a unique perspective.....
That's not mad! This could be said to apply to many things. Downers are all looking at Tolkien from slightly different angles but essentially see the same thing; we just see the meaning in slightly different ways. It could also be applied to the way that from just one created word Tolkien could create not only a history but an entire story, and the another story, and so on... Just one word contains so much more.

This could also be applied to the idea of Divinity in Arda. If it is symbolised by Light and it was then 'broken' then this would show how so many differing peoples could come about with differing views and languages. If the Light was a divine gift from Eru then perhaps it was never intended to be broken, thus Gandalf and the Secret Fire, and his opposition to Saruman's breaking of the Light. Back on my favourite topic now, but each colour created by Saruman's breaking of the Light maybe gave a differing perspective, when he really ought to have been viewing Arda through the white Light, which is composed of the various other lights. these other lights are not wrong, but to look through just one is to miss the 'whole picture'.

So, maybe looking at Tolkien's work through just one light is also wrong, and we ought to look at it through many lights, in the hope we will look at it through the one white Light (which would be Tolkien's Light). Anyway, it's another reason to keep visiting the 'Downs to see what everyone thinks...
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Old 01-19-2005, 08:51 PM   #36
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Tolkien

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davem:I did read somewhere that its possible to translate 'God created man in His own image as 'God created man in His own imagination'.
Perhaps it means both, and this is another example of a distinction for which we want the unity back!
Quote:
Tolkien's works help to move us back into a state of harmony with 'God', helping to heal that sense of seperation we feel, of being 'out of synch' with 'something' which for most of us these days is unnameable....
Yet we all try and try ... think of all the "-ism"s which really are just new myths, poor step sisters that they are.
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I'm reminded of something Bob Stewart said in an interview, about the way we talk about the 'ignorant past'. He made the point that we are currently living in what our decendants will refer to as their 'ignorant past'.
"Chronological snobbery" (term coined by C.S. Lewis - or was it his tutor?) is an illness of the modern mind. Before the Renaissance, "our forebears" were honored. Now they're just part of the ignorant past.
Quote:
Perhaps 'Faerie' is that 'harmony' which we feel should be the way of things but isn't.
Yes. I would use the word 'unity' in the place of 'harmony'.
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God 'dreams 'JRR Tolkien' who 'dreams' Frodo who 'dreams' of White shores under a swift Sunrise...
Quite poetic, davem!
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I don't know why fractal images have just sprung to mind...
I had to do a google to figure out what you were talking about.
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Sophia:If literature (particularly pre-scientific-revolution literature... perhaps the term I want is "mythic") deals in unities then science deals in dividing things up.
A scholar of Hebrew once told me that, in Hebrew, the word for 'kill' is the same as for 'cut', which reminds me of what I have heard scientists bemoan: "We have to kill/stop/halt/break something in order to learn what we need to about it." Analysis is the practice of making distinctions: it's at the core of the scientific method. Yet the greatest scientific thinkers, such as Einstein, used and trusted their imaginations just as much as their mathematics. Wasn't it Einstein who said that fairy tales were of vital importance to the shaping of his intellect?
Quote:
While it's not necessarily difficult to imagine water being H2O and then later to feel like water is the same thing it always was, it's a little more difficult with people.
Especially true for me. I remember when I accepted the theory of evolution, I began to regard children as akin to monkeys, and less valuable thereby. Then I remembered (or was reminded) that children are made in the image of God, and I began to watch children with open wonder again. It's only a "for instance", but it shows, to me, at least, that what we believe and think has everything to do with our moral choices.
Quote:
Once you get to dividing complex things up, sometimes it's tough to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Hence the loss of unity contributing to a more internal character development: the outside world of actions is some kind of separate piece.
This got me to thinking how internal character development is creating a whole new world. Each story of this kind is its own fairy tale. The world being created, which is the interior life of the character, is no more subject to the laws of the primary world than are the secondary worlds of fantasy - sometimes less so. Maybe this is parthly why interior character devleopment is not at home in fairy tales, being redundant - a tertiary world in a secondary.
Quote:
Lyta Underhill:[fractal images] are simply fractional dimensions, a cutting in half of dimensions between which can be iterated into infinity and create smaller versions of the same designs in equal complexity.
This definition of yours, Lyta, didn't sink in until I saw a couple examples. It's quite a visual medium. I do see the relation, but a different connection occurs to me: transposition.
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Lalwendë:I think that there is not such a great contrast with 'modern' fiction, it is that instead of seeing the internalised thoughts of one protagonist, we see the psychological motivation of many characters, but expressed instead through representation of their thoughts in action and speech.
Precisely. From a writer's point of view, this is a difference of paradigmatic proportions, since interior characterization is very much in vogue, while the purely exterior (such as Tolkien with a few rare and pivotal exceptions) is considered to be "poor characterization".
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[Gollum] is a raw character, brutal and immoral yet somehow fragile too.
I don't find the fragility surprising. I think it's a natural outgrowth of the immorality.
Quote:
I do question how much of the effects can be down to the innate qualities of both Gollum and Frodo
I don't think it is the innate qualities at all. It was choices made, and grace: "there but for the grace of God go I." This is in keeping with fairy tale and myth! Although the element of grace is new with Tolkien, at least in fairy tale.
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It was as though the paths suddenly split but came back in upon themselves.
This is the movement of grace unlooked for: eucatastrophe.
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davem:subcreation is an attempt to 'earth' the divine
To make it concrete. Quite. Again, I am reminded of C.S. Lewis's transposition, which is "the indwelling of the higher in the lower." It means that God, holding the universe in God's mind, enters it and in so doing, enriches it, changes it. I'm not sure what, if anything, this has to do with Tolkien's LotR, but I was reminded of it.
Quote:
If it is symbolised by Light and it was then 'broken' then this would show how so many differing peoples could come about with differing views and languages.
Reminds me of Tolkien's poem which contains these lines:
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Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined,
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Bold face mine. The unities, again.
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Old 01-19-2005, 09:25 PM   #37
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I'm a little wary about entering into a discussion that has taken such a pronounced spiritual/religious turn. But Child's original question intrigues me. Do characters in a myth "wear their souls on the outside" as it were? That is, do they manifest outwardly what are ordinarily (in real life perhaps, or in more modern fiction) internal traits?

In a way, this seems like a candidate for a definition of the mythical - that is, a myth is a story that transfers internal phenomena into external phenomena. This is in line with the Jungian archetypes and Campbell's monomyth. So we might say, for example, that Shelob is an external manifestation of certain innate human fears.

The idea is attractive, but when one considers individual characters - Frodo, Gollum, Boromir, etc. - it starts to become unclear (to me, at least) how exactly they have their souls on the outside. To put it another way - given two characters, one with and one without this externalization of the psyche, how can we distinguish them? How would Frodo be different if he did not manifest his psyche outwardly?

I cannot think of a good answer to this. Yet I still find the idea intriguing. Can anyone present a satisfactory account of what in practice, in literary terms, it means for a character's sould to be visible?
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Old 01-20-2005, 01:20 AM   #38
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Frodo Needs to See a Psychiatrist?

Quote:
Lalwendë: I like the way you bring in Frodo here. In Frodo we can see the beginnings of what happened to Gollum, but I do question how much of the effects can be down to the innate qualities of both Gollum and Frodo, as ultimately, the effects are the same, this 'evil' corrupts anyone who succumbs, no matter how good their intentions are.
Indeed it seems that the effects of the Quest and bearing the Ring have an equal, opposite effect on Frodo, and his visible soul, as it were, becomes the clear light that shines more evidently as he struggles against the Ring. Contrasting Frodo and Gollum in this way, it seems to me that not only are the characters imbued with visible souls but so is the entire landscape and all of the reality of Middle Earth. It is mythical, and thus it has a way or intention. Frodo's entire life energy is expended to enhance that way, to enrich the very fabric of Middle Earth, while Gollum chooses the path of decay, the inward-turning rather than outward looking that davem mentions above. His energies are directed against the best interests of the very land he lives on, and thus he is doomed. It seems almost a Taoist conceit I'm having here...but perhaps I can in a small way address Aiwendil's questions of the manifestation of outwardness.
Quote:
Aiwendil: To put it another way - given two characters, one with and one without this externalization of the psyche, how can we distinguish them? How would Frodo be different if he did not manifest his psyche outwardly?
Perhaps Frodo would not shine with a visible, perceptible light that is noticed by at least two other characters; perhaps his singular purpose would be cast in another light, the light of those who do not see the cohesive principle of Middle Earth. To a modern Earthling, perhaps Frodo is in the grip of a psychosis. Believes he's the only one who can save Middle Earth, eh? Well, its a big place and it will take care of itself, and anyone who has such thoughts must have a screw loose...etc. etc. Perhaps the externalization is in the structure and focus on the reality of the myth. One step beyond "magic realism."

I'd say more, but since I've lost the train of thought, I hope this will make sense for now!
Cheers!
Lyta

P.S. (You knew I'd do it...I just can't seem to quit!) Another thought on Gollum: it seems to my memory that this visibility is pointed out more intentionally by Tolkien in Frodo's character, and that there is outward ambiguity in Gollum's outward affect, and this ambiguity is most pronounced when we look at Gollum through Frodo's eyes, as if Frodo is "looking into the dark" when he considers Smeagol/Gollum. It does seem there is an answer in the divide between Gollum and Frodo, or perhaps Gollum is seen in a referential manner with regard to the way he is drawn by Gandalf and Aragorn, or the one-sided way he is judged by Sam (who himself is VERY tight with Middle Earth!) and this is contrasted continuously with a moment to moment reality through Frodo's experience of the creature himself...as if Gollum is an alien to the harmonic myth of Middle Earth and Frodo is that myth reaching out to him...I fear I have gone too far off the track and the only reason I don't delete this last bit is maybe it will make sense to someone out there! (Or maybe it is because my own point of view seems to inevitably proceed from Frodo's eyes--I'm sure that has something to do with the thoughts above.)
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Old 01-20-2005, 07:53 AM   #39
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perhaps his singular purpose would be cast in another light, the light of those who do not see the cohesive principle of Middle Earth. To a modern Earthling, perhaps Frodo is in the grip of a psychosis. Believes he's the only one who can save Middle Earth, eh? Well, its a big place and it will take care of itself, and anyone who has such thoughts must have a screw loose...etc. etc.
This is a really interesting point. I have heard people discussing what would have happened to a figure like Jesus were he around today, and the conclusion is usually that just as he was viewed then, he would probably be viewed today. We humans seem to be cynical and untrusting far too often, and we do not like anyone or anything which seems to have a 'higher' purpose we cannot immediately understand or see the immediate gains to be made from. In Middle Earth things are different (but not always in the Shire, interestingly, thinking about the gossips and their tales of Bilbo and Frodo). is this because Frodo's mission is with the common purpose, or is it because such mythical intentions are acceptable?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lyta_Underhill
Contrasting Frodo and Gollum in this way, it seems to me that not only are the characters imbued with visible souls but so is the entire landscape and all of the reality of Middle Earth. It is mythical, and thus it has a way or intention.
This is reflected in how the ancients viewed thair landscape and surroundings. There are many 'spiritual' landscapes to be found in the UK: the Hope valley in the Peak District, Salisbury Plain, and the area around Glastonbury Tor are just a few examples. These are landscapes invested with meaning and purpose; they have visible souls, as we can see the monuments built there and how the natural features interact with one another. Perhaps this is getting a bit weird, but it does have links to Middle Earth; the landscape there is clearly invested with meaning and history as much as it is in the mythical places in our world.

I'm glad you brought that one up anyway, as I'm one of those readers who sees the land of Arda as a character in its own right.
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Old 01-20-2005, 07:57 AM   #40
Aiwendil
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Lyta_Underhill wrote:
Quote:
Perhaps Frodo would not shine with a visible, perceptible light that is noticed by at least two other characters; perhaps his singular purpose would be cast in another light, the light of those who do not see the cohesive principle of Middle Earth. To a modern Earthling, perhaps Frodo is in the grip of a psychosis. Believes he's the only one who can save Middle Earth, eh? Well, its a big place and it will take care of itself, and anyone who has such thoughts must have a screw loose...etc. etc. Perhaps the externalization is in the structure and focus on the reality of the myth. One step beyond "magic realism."
This makes some sense. But is the "outwardness" of the characters' psyches then limited to this kind of "magic"? If we took away the perceptible light, would that make Frodo into the other kind of character? If so, then the outwardness would seem to be rather a superficial trait. What about other characters in LotR - I can think of no physical sign on the level of the light seen around Frodo in the case of Boromir, for instance.

As for the other part of your suggestion - that Frodo would be viewed by a modern as psychotic - it seems to me that this has less to do with the nature of mythical characters than with the nature of the mythical world. What I mean is that it is the nature of the world that Frodo is in that determines whether he is psychotic. If he is in a world like the real one, where it does not make sense that the great evil can be defeated by dropping a ring into a volcano, then his beliefs are delusional. But if he is in a world where exactly what he believes is true, then clearly he is not delusional. I don't think that this reflects any particular difference between one type of character and another.
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