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Old 11-14-2003, 04:05 PM   #41
lindil
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Tolkien really wasn't big in exploring the human psyche and its pursuits
hmmm, I thought that through the Elves and Dwarves, Ents and Hobbits, he was exploring the human psyche [or in the case of the Elves] it's idealized, or rarely realized potentials?

This to me is also another reason I see as utterly shallow, the charge of paper-thin charcterizations. The depth is nearly always there, provided you have been given a sort of Smith of Wooten Major star for your mind, to be able to perceive what the text says, as well as the impressions it creates.

What you get out of any text is of course equally dependent on the quality of your awareness as it is upon the words themselves.

As Aiwendil rightly pointed out in the dumbing down thread, Tolkien palces demands upon his readers: that they correlate information about specific characters or scenarios given often in widely different chapters texts or sources, and that be willing to read something more than once [ The Silmarillion is a perfect example of this for many people].
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Old 11-14-2003, 04:16 PM   #42
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As Aiwendil rightly pointed out in the dumbing down thread, Tolkien palces demands upon his readers: that they correlate information about specific characters or scenarios given often in widely different chapters texts or sources, and that be willing to read something more than once [ The Silmarillion is a perfect example of this for many people].
I love the view that it is the readers fault for not seeing the depth in the characters.

I would also point that it is absolutely no defence to state that one should be willing to read numerous sources in order to understand the characters. An author should put all the necessary information in the story itself and not rely on additional (unpublished) sources.
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Old 11-14-2003, 11:54 PM   #43
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I love the view that it is the readers fault for not seeing the depth in the characters.
Fault, to me implies that it is some sort of sin to be less than super-conscious at any given moment.

Of course there is something to the idea that not all books are written to be read the same way, and thusly, some through willfulness, ignorance or lack of sensitivity, will miss the boat entirely.

I am sure there are great works of Art that I have stood before in a museum, and got virtually nothing from, that a trained artist or lover of art, could look at and feel the state of the painter, felt his heart open in response or appreciation, or feel whatever emotion or idea was being embedded into the work.


What one gets out of anything: a movie, a lecture, a book, even one's own ponderings can very vastly from person to person [obviously] and equally importantly to my mind, but far less generally accepted, it is never a constant variable within the same person.

I look at and experience Tolkien [and a few other art forms, like Tai-Chi Chuan, some of the music of Yes - not too mention prayer and meditation] as an exercise in awareness. It is something I repeat over and over over the years. And I find I am rewarded with depth and quality [of characters, subtlty of plot, appreciation of new levels of archtypal and elemental themes and images, etc] every time I read LotR and Silm and co.

Quote:
I would also point that it is absolutely no defence to state that one should be willing to read numerous sources in order to understand the characters. An author should put all the necessary information in the story itself and not rely on additional (unpublished) sources.
This brings up several intersting points:

1- JRRT wanted, and rather intensely at that, to publish the Silm in conjunction with the LotR. This would have given, for instance, literally thousands of years of back history to a character like Aragorn, we would already understand what 'the Heir of Isildur' means in a far greater sense had the above publishing happened as JRRT wished. This would in turn influence our [or at least it would my] reading of his actions in FotR.

However this did not happen. So can one fault JRRT for not putting all of Elrond's or Galadriel's or even Sauron's backstory
into the LotR ?

As we read in the 'official Biography':
Quote:
It was possible to say that The Lord of the Rings stood up as an independent story, but becuase it included obscure references to the earlier mythology it would be better if the two books could be published together.
Tolkien also said something on the order of: 'The two [Silm and LotR] are one to me'.

So for Tolkien 'The story' could not be put into 'story' it was far, far too large. To large to put into one volume [or three], to large to write in a decade or as it proved for JRRT even in 60 years. He had tapped into a mine, so rich and deep that there was no procedures in place for maximizing or streamlining it's output. As Sam says on the border of Morder [showing a depth to his character that simply can not be appreciated fully till the Silmarillion is read],
Quote:
'...Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did...and why I never thought of that before! We've got - you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, were in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great Tales ever end?'
.

2- Unlike most other writers JRRT was dealing with an extremely deep and organic [I would say] method and style of writing, that has more to do with The Bible and Homer and the Church Fathers than 'modern; writers. He was not content to write a story and be done with it. Like Niggle's Tree his Legendarium has/took on a life of it's own, and to his credit, he tried to follow this, rather than force it. This being, I believe part of his approach, one can not expect that everything will be told all at once.

Of course you are free to expect it Eurytus, but you also will be disappointed.

On the otherhand, while I personally wished JRRT had finished a full blown 3 volume Silmarillion as he had plannned, I take great delight in assembling and experiencing all of the leaves from the Tree of the Legendarium that are still being found : The Osanwe-Kenta, the Letters, the linguistic bits, the History of Middle-Earth [of course], the commentary on Elvish pilgrimages and prayer in The Road Goes Ever on, etc.

The Legendarium [and thus the characters within it] are like parts of a mosaic, maybe 1/2 of it left from the original, the rest being slowly re-assembled over the decades.

For varying reasons this is bound to be a useless or frustrating or boring process to some, maybe even to many.

Indeed for me the Legendarium has become, like Tai-Chi and music and Church part of the way I think and feel and see the world. the characters may not be three dimensional, but they are often four.

I guess Eurytus, I would offer you one further analogy to use to look at the Legendarium [and within that JRRRT's style and the characters]. A garden.

While a garden is a specific peice of ground, everyting about it is dependant on something from outside itself. Seeds, Sun, a human to tend it. And what one will get from it is not a foregone conclusion. Indeed some may only get weeds, others enough to live off of and thrive. Even the type of music played around it [according to research mentioned in the Secret Life of Plants] will influence it's growth rate.

-L

[ November 15, 2003: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 11-15-2003, 12:31 AM   #44
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I see no specific argument for a case other than Aiwendil/lindil's general statement that Tolkien does this, but I don't believe that this is the case with Tolkien's work. In such a long work, there is definitely a requirement of correlating information found in different chapters, but as for other sources, I'm not so sure. I find little (nothing?) in The Lord of the Rings that actually requires the reader to step into a different book (Is that the point that was being made?). It seems to me that every conflict emphasized in the book (as a major or minor sequence in the plot) to be explained sufficiently within the book itself.

There are a number of details in The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales that may enhance a reader's understanding of the events of The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien does not depend on this 'outside' knowledge to get his points across within the latter works. He couldn't, even, because these outside stories were not complete (or even close to complete) at the time of the others' publication.

One does not have to read the chapter on the Istari in UT to understand what the wizards are up to or what sort of role Gandalf is there to play. A read of The Silmarillion is not required to understand what the elves are dealing with. Their immortality and tendency to be preservers is presented enough within the Third Age books. The 'outside' books undoubtedly enhance the experience (or at least further understanding of what's going on in the grand scope of this history), but they are not depended upon.

[ November 15, 2003: Message edited by: Legolas ]
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Old 11-15-2003, 01:30 AM   #45
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Legolas posted:
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find little (nothing?) in The Lord of the Rings that actually requires the reader to step into a different book (Is that the point that was being made?). It seems to me that every conflict emphasized in the book (as a major or minor sequence in the plot) to be explained sufficiently within the book itself.
To which I would compare with JRRT's letter 153:
Quote:
I have, of course, considered all of the points you raise... but any kind of real answer to your more profound queries must at least wait till you have more in hand: Vol III for instance, [italics mine]not too mention the more mythical histories of the Cosmogony, First and Second Ages.
So while I agree that a 'basic' shall we say, and by that I do not mean necessarily a simplistic, reading of LotR will be in many respects self-contained, to have a deeper understanding of the characters requires the big picture that only the Silm, UT and co. works provide.

There is even one case where we will never know what is behind it all. That of Bilbo and the Lay of Earendil. THe source tects Bilbo was workng from were never written by JRRT so upon what evidence Aragorn finds his efforts out of line [other than in general] we will never know.

But there are many other points [such as the quote of Sam above] that surely you will agree require more than the LotR to properly understand.

In another place in RotK [on the slopes of Orodruin] Sam hearkens back to the telling of the Lay of Beren and Luthien in Imladris. Surely while this does not leave confusion over the plot, you will concede that not knowing the significance or depth of the reference can not allow us to see the depth of Sam as a character at that moment?
------------------------------
again Legolas:
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but Tolkien does not depend on this 'outside' knowledge to get his points across within the latter works. He couldn't, even, because these outside stories were not complete (or even close to complete) at the time of the others' publication.
Two points:
1- 'to get his points across' I agree we do not need the background texts so much. But to fully understand the depth of characterization [ the topic of the thread], I do think in many places, we only get a clear picture from multiple or wider reading.

2-All of the Silmarillion was written prior to the LotR even being begun [see The Lost Road vol. 5 for the nearly complete Pre-LotR version] , though various details and refinements were made, all of the details made mention to in the story [with afore mentioned exception of the Earendil saga which was never completed anywhere except in sketch] werre there. It is true, that much in the way of explanatory details as are found in UT were composed/discovered after, but the primary point of the Silm and LotR being one work in JRRT's mind, and in his hopes to have them published, read and understood together stands.
-L
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Old 11-15-2003, 07:21 AM   #46
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1- JRRT wanted, and rather intensely at that, to publish the Silm in conjunction with the LotR. This would have given, for instance, literally thousands of years of back history to a character like Aragorn, we would already understand what 'the Heir of Isildur' means in a far greater sense had the above publishing happened as JRRT wished. This would in turn influence our [or at least it would my] reading of his actions in FotR.

However this did not happen. So can one fault JRRT for not putting all of Elrond's or Galadriel's or even Sauron's backstory
into the LotR ?
Sorry but I can blame him. A review of his correspondance shows that he knew well in advance that the Silmarillion was extremely unlikely to be published and so it remained up until his death.
He tried numerous times to palm various works off as a possible sequel to the Hobbit and was often rebuffed.

So yes, a work should be able to stand alone. If there is shallowness to a character in LOTR it is absolutely no defence to say, "but I've got tons of backstory for him in my unpublished scribblings!"

And further, backstory and history does not necessary give psychological depth. Take the interaction between the three leads in Jaws. Little to no backstory is needed. Little to no history. Interaction leads to depth, which is as it should be.

Hence the laughable shallowness of Legolas's (aka the shop mannikin) character.
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Old 11-15-2003, 08:58 AM   #47
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Hence the laughable shallowness of Legolas's (aka the shop mannikin) character.
He is clearly meant to be a support character, he does what he does, he says what he says. Get from it what you will. For me I have never felt Legolas' lack of depth. When he speaks [praising Aragorn to Merry and Piipin in regards the Paths of the Dead] he is to me showing the fact that though an immortal, a prince and no johnny come lately, he has been in the presence of a one worthy of complete respect and devotion, and thus alot of silence, as this gives Legolas the ability to stand back and learn. Contrast this with Boromir who was always quick to speak. Legolas' silence is often louder than words.

E., from the thread on the Nazgul at Valinor -italics are mine:
Quote:
Apart from Gandalf perhaps the only other person who would have been capable of mastering it would have been Galadriel, whose true strength is only really revealed in the Silmarillion.
hmmm... very interesting. Apart from the fact that it is UT's The History of Galadriel and Celeborn [and behind that HoM-E XII's Shibboleth of Feanor] that reveal her as Feanor's equal you seem to be at odds with yourself on the 'multi-source reading shows the full character' issue.

E. you clearly have your own [seemingly deficient for your personal standards] way of reading LotR and if you wish to maintain them you of course will, but I for one, am always on the lookout for ways to appreciate art that I do not quite 'get' but that others I respect and know do.

That being the case you have been offered a banquet table of doors that open into the Legendarium by many if not most of the senior posters on this board. Perhaps you do not wish to admit there are other ways to experience literature, perhaps you do not really respect anyone else's opinion here, so trying to read LotR from their perspective and with their attitude's seems only an idea fit for the ignorant and simple.

lindil

[ November 15, 2003: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 11-15-2003, 11:00 AM   #48
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I'm repeating the same warning here that I've issued in the "Dumbing Down" thread, for much the same reasons:

The Downs has always supported thoughtful and civil debate of almost any topic or opinion. Emphasis on thoughtful and civil. Posts that deliberately bait others and that drip with sarcasm and needlessly inflammatory language will not be tolerated further, as per our policies.

Unless this discussion can move forward with more courtesy, respectfulness, and a greater effort to put forward thoughtful arguments, I’m gonna close it down.
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Old 11-15-2003, 12:56 PM   #49
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Back to the topic...


I'm sure that Tolkien realized that the Silmarillion probably wouldn't be published hand-in-hand with LotR, but he expected that it would be published very quickly after. That way, his readers wouldn't have to wait so long to get their backstory.

I, for one, didn't feel that any of the characters were psychologically lacking. I read books in general for entertainment, not to interpret and criticize them. As I was reading LotR, yes, I realized that some backstory would have been nice, but I also realized that each character fit his/her own little niche without taking up too much room. For example, we found out enough about Legolas to understand why he did some of the things that he did, and that was enough for us to understand the story. The same thing happened with Aragorn. Readers don't really need to know the entire backstory of a character or characters, although it is nice. Nice and essential are NOT the same thing. I read the Silmarillion for the first time about 1 year after finishing LotR, and it did open up my eyes about some things (i.e. Heir of Isildur, Westernesse, Lords of the West, Aman, etc.) and it helped me enjoy the story even more. It was a story in itself, as LotR is a story in itself.
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Old 11-15-2003, 04:32 PM   #50
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lindil,

I believe that the very idealization that you speak of disallows psychological depth.

But like I have said over and over again: Tolkien is no Tolstoy and Tolstoy is no Tolkien.

I didn't read War and Peace for some Balrog-butt-kicking action, and I didn't read the LotR for the psychology of Russian dances (these are extreme examples, naturally).

So whatever. You can take my head and bang it on a desk for all eternity while telling me that Tolkien's characters were psychologically "deep" and I'll just tell you to leave me alone for all eternity (at least I'm pretty sure of that, though it would be arrogant for me to assume that at this point in my life I understand everything that's going on with Frodo, for example).

Even at the moments that the reader feels closest to the characters, Tolkien is not out to plumb the complex motivations of the human psyche, he's out to touch a different string in our hearts.

(Though maybe, just maybe, those strings all lead to the same place in the end...But I'm not sure of that; I'll get back to you in a couple of decades on that one)

And you know, he does what he does beautifully, and leaves me satisfied, and so I'm cool with all that.

[ November 15, 2003: Message edited by: Lush ]
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Old 11-15-2003, 05:47 PM   #51
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This is a fascinating thread, and I'm a little hesitant to comment with what may be quite a simplistic point. To me Tolkien's approach to characterisation was quite sophisticated, and the result of his literary purposes. He was producing an epic, self-consciously so, and thus his method harked back to the tradition he was following, from Beowulf to Malory. Yet he was also writing a 20th century novel, and he had to take account of this (obviously, he had no choice here: however grounded in the past, he was a modern man himself). Thus he mingled modern characterisation (though revealed through action and dialogue, rather than internal monologue or third person analysis) with epic story-telling, but just enough to suit the medium he was (re)creating. His characters thus have as much 'personality' as they need to drive the story and engage the reader, but the creation of personality was not his prime purpose. (Though even here he is due more credit than some have given him: the maligned Aragorn is a good example. Re-reading his tense and rather aggressive first encounter with the hobbits with the information provided by the Appendices that he was lately from his mother's deathbed provides an undercurrent that is 'character'-driven rather than an aspect of the story.)
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Old 11-15-2003, 07:32 PM   #52
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Lost one posted:
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Re-reading his {aragorn's} tense and rather aggressive first encounter with the hobbits with the information provided by the Appendices that he was lately from his mother's deathbed provides an undercurrent that is 'character'-driven rather than an aspect of the story
Very interesting, I had never caught that exact chronology before, did you peice it together yourself, or is there more source for it than the Appendix Tale of A & A?

But this is the very sort of thing [along with my Legolas example above, I think] that allows us to experience depth in the Legendarium.

Another fascinating example of character depth, perhaps even his most vivid is the last major narrative of the Silm saga to be worked on,
The Wanderings of Hurin, in The War of the Jewels.

Lush, perhaps we would disagree for eternity, but I do hope we can revisit this very thread in a decade or 2 [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] .

-L
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Old 11-16-2003, 10:33 AM   #53
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lindil: I'd love to claim credit for the Aragorn insight, but I owe it to Paul Kocher's excellent book, 'Master of Middle-earth', which has a whole chapter on Aragorn's role and characterisation. In my memory at least, this is a terrific book, but I don't know if it's currently available.
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Old 11-16-2003, 11:02 AM   #54
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I usually agree whole heartedly with Lindil, but there is one exception this time. I don't think it takes a reading of the Sil or the other extra-LotR works to gain a full appreciation for the richness of LotR. It didn't in my case. I had only read The Hobbit, its appropriate but not truly necessary prequel.

It seems to me that a certain mind-set is more necessary than all the back-reading. I was blessed, or fortunate, to have it. I'm not sure what to call this mind-set, but I might venture to describe it as more or less not satisfied with the world as it is perceived - a desire for wonder - which reminds me of Tolkien's On Faerie Stories, which I also read after LotR, with its triad of Escape, Recovery, and Consolation.

Having this mind-set, and thus enjoying LotR for the first read, more or less sends one into the appendices, and then back for a re-reading of LotR, which invariably enriches one's appeciation and understanding of Middle Earth. One might follow this with Unfinished Tales and the History, but the appreciation and understanding seem already to be there by then.
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Old 11-16-2003, 03:41 PM   #55
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One might follow this with Unfinished Tales and the History, but the appreciation and understanding seem already to be there by then.
Good point, littlemanpoet! I do find that the mindset I had upon the second reading of LOTR was much more conducive to understanding and appreciation than the first time around, when I was distracted and could not fully delve into the meanings I wished uncovered in my reading. Perhaps the difference lies in the concentration of detail, some of the richness of Tolkien lies in the dense resonance that his Silmarillion and histories, etc. create within a tale that, to my mind, is self-contained, even with its references to the greater histories. (I must say that a subsequent reading of LOTR after the Silm. yields yet more richness). It is to the Professor's credit that this vast source material DOES exist, for in most works, we can only guess at meanings and intentions. But it does not mean that the source material is necessary for an appreciation of the core trilogy. It is simply a great bonus that, once read, cannot be forgotten; thus it is automatically merged with the LOTR in the mind as the one great tale that never ends, as Sam observed so perceptively and yet without the full perception that, say, Elrond, might have enjoyed. But the tale is full and deep for both Elrond and Sam, only in different ways. So I return to the tale, enriched by the Silmarillion, but still able to feel it as Sam does! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Cheers,
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Old 11-17-2003, 02:10 AM   #56
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hmmm... very interesting. Apart from the fact that it is UT's The History of Galadriel and Celeborn [and behind that HoM-E XII's Shibboleth of Feanor] that reveal her as Feanor's equal you seem to be at odds with yourself on the 'multi-source reading shows the full character' issue.
Please check the title of the thread, the title of the thread is about psychological depth. Finding out about Galadriel’s ranking from other works has nothing to do with her psyche. Hence there is no contradiction at all.
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Old 11-17-2003, 03:51 AM   #57
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I think part of the problem is that many of Tolkien's characters are serving a kind of dual purpose. If we take Faramir, for instance. Faramir is not just an individual, with feelings & emotions, he is also a symbol.

Up to his appearance we've heard a lot about the 'Glory of Gondor' & the 'Wisdom of the Numenoreans', but what have we seen of Gondor? Boromir, & he is hardly an advert for the Glory or Wisdom of Gondor?

But then we meet Faramir - noble, wise, self sacrifycing - willing to see his beloved city go down in defeat rather than use the waepon of the Enemy. Faramir is a good man, trying to live up to the Numenorean ideal.

Up to meeting Faramir, we, & Frodo, have been made fully aware of what the West is fighting against. With Faramir we are presented with a living symbol of what they are fighting for.

Perhaps the character's psyches are a bit inaccessible for some readers because of this 'dual' function. For me, it adds depth, & makes the characters more, rather than less believable.
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Old 11-17-2003, 06:09 AM   #58
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that reveal her as Feanor's equal
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rank
Rank is only one part of it. Tolkien clearly loved Feanor despite all his faults, and even Gandalf held him in high regard; If she is Feanor's equal, or even close, then she is fiery, creative, ambitious and capable of leading a large group of elves off into war and destruction. And I think a careful consideration of Galadriel shows that that is so.

We may guess at that from her "All shall love me and despair" speech during her Ring-temptation, but everybody tempted by the Ring including Sam had grandiose ideas. Comparing her to Feanor makes her temptation truly awesome. Can we imagine Feanor with The One Ring? Galadriel would have been little different.

I think Galadriel's background adds tremendous depth.

Edit: Davem, very good point. I wonder how that extends to the elves; we seem to meet at least one token elf from each culture except Mithlond... Should we compare Haldir vs Legolas vs Glorfindel, or would the Rivendell equivalent be Lindir (who always annoyed me)? I'll vote for Glorfindel to represent Rivendell since we get to know him a little better. This is worth returning to; more later...

[ November 17, 2003: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 11-17-2003, 08:37 AM   #59
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Lost One: I do have an ancient and battered 'Master of Middle-Earth' which I have not read in ages. Time to dust it off...

Eurytus: As the tenor of the debate has been officially 'encouraged' to change, I will leave you with what I posted above. If my several posts [not too mention the other many other and better responses] do not succeed in pointing you in a new dirction re: Psychological depth, then alas, nothing else I can say will have much hope of doing it either. The same must be said for the Galadriel issue addressed above. If you do not see the intimate and to my mind indisoluable bond between character and that characters innate power then there is probably nothing I can do to explicate it. I want to apologize to you however for letting my personal reactions go beyond what is civilized or useful to conversation. That was unbecoming of any poster especially a mod.

Several others have also taken issue more or less with me on the 'multi-source to see the whole character issue'. I did not mean to imply that one could not read the LotR and not get 'the core' of it, clearly you can, and I am sure we all did, before ever opening up the posthumous books, but I do think much remains undeveloped or only hinted at in certain characters [Galadriel being an obvious one - Elrond's commitment to interacting with and councilling with all races is also put in much greater contrast after sdeeing the whole picture of oft re-curring Elven isolationism] and especially in certain preceeding/parallel themes [Ring and Silmarills], involvment of Valr/Istari etc. All of these while in many ways not directly 'character issues' come to inform our understanding of everyline the characters speak in the LotR.

So the LotR goes from [imo] deep and splendid when read alone, to far, far beyond what anyone else either has done or probably could do [given that JRRT's most unusual natural abilities with language combined with an extremely classical education and his personal experiences with War and, romance and Catholicism/Theology, when read in conjunction with the voluminous posthumous writings.


Dave M: your point re: Faramir is excellent, and to me it points to one of many subtle 'variables' continually in use by JRRT that I think accounts for the wonder and warmth of heart mixed with longing and sorrow that many readers feel is not to be found anywhere else in the realm of fiction or modern literature.

In a sense the characters serve as vehicles to see the world anew, just as Frodo feels the power of the Elven ring at work in Lorien. Pure [and truly white] magic for some of us.

[ November 17, 2003: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 11-17-2003, 08:39 AM   #60
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quote:
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that reveal her as Feanor's equal
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quote:
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rank
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Rank is only one part of it. Tolkien clearly loved Feanor despite all his faults, and even Gandalf held him in high regard; If she is Feanor's equal, or even close, then she is fiery, creative, ambitious and capable of leading a large group of elves off into war and destruction. And I think a careful consideration of Galadriel shows that that is so.
Sorry but you are not debating the correct part of the post. The fact was that I had used the Silmarillion and Tolkien's mythology to suggest that Galadriel was likely to be the next being after Gandalf that Sauron would fear to claim the Ring.

Someone then tried to use this comment of mine to prove that I was being hypocritical in regards to when I stated that one should not have to read the rest of Tolkien's works to see the psychological depths to the characters in LOTR.

Since I was using Tolkien's other works to compare Galadriels power, standing (call it what you will) against Gandalf's it was incorrect of that person to label me a hypocrit. I had used Tolkien's other works to assess someone's power, not their psychological depth which is the title of this thread.

And I stand behind my earlier comment that any author worth his salt should not need to rely on unpublished works to enhance the psychological depth of the characters. Nor is psychological depth the same as backstory or history.
If you take the movie Jaws, we know and indeed learn very little about the history of the three men on the Orca (Quint maybe a little) and yet does in impair on our ability to see into their psyches? No, not in my view.

Psychological depth can be achieved relatively economically and does not need acres of history or backstory which is a very different thing.
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Old 11-17-2003, 09:01 AM   #61
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This is excerpted from my recently edited above post in the light of Eurytus' reply. Please pardon the repetition, but I did not want it to get lost in an edit above.


--Eurytus: As the tenor of the debate has been officially 'encouraged' to change, I will leave you with what I posted above. If my several posts [not too mention the other many other and better responses] do not succeed in pointing you in a new dirction re: Psychological depth, then alas, nothing else I can say will have much hope of doing it either.

The same must be said for the Galadriel issue addressed above. If you do not see the intimate and to my mind indisoluable bond between character and that characters innate power then there is probably nothing I can do to explicate it.


I want to apologize to you however for letting my personal reactions go beyond what is civilized or useful to conversation. That was unbecoming of any poster especially a moderator, and the Downs has tried to pride itself on [and almost always succeeded in] warm-hearted discussions, despite any differences of opinion.

sincerely,
lindil

[ November 17, 2003: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 11-17-2003, 10:11 AM   #62
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Lindil, something weird seems to be happening with the posting and I don't know if your first response to my latest answer to the Galadriel question was there before I answered. It did not appear to be but now is so I don't want it to appear as if I was rude and ignored your subsequent post.

However I have to say that I cannot agree with this;
Quote:
The same must be said for the Galadriel issue addressed above. If you do not see the intimate and to my mind indisoluable bond between character and that characters innate power then there is probably nothing I can do to explicate it.
A character can be powerful but poorly defined with no psychological depth. Sauron after all is powerful and in LOTR you see absolutely nothing about him.
To a lesser extent Glorfindel too is portrayed as very powerful and again you do not get a good insight into his character in my view.

However we will doubtless not agree on this issue and it seems as if I am annoying everyone though it was not my intention so I will desist in this thread.

Well, ok, unless a point is made that really, really grabs me and I just have to answer it........

But otherwise...cheers,
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Old 11-17-2003, 11:57 AM   #63
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Eurytus wrote:
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A character can be powerful but poorly defined with no psychological depth. Sauron after all is powerful and in LOTR you see absolutely nothing about him.
To a lesser extent Glorfindel too is portrayed as very powerful and again you do not get a good insight into his character in my view.
I think that what Lindil meant (if I may be so bold) is not that powerful characters automatically have psychological depth, but rather that the fact that the character is powerful is one of the pieces of characterization that goes toward establishing psychological depth.
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Old 11-17-2003, 12:01 PM   #64
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Some great replies and much food for thought. I have been meaning to come back and reply to some of the points that have been made for some time now, but I haven’t been able to set aside the time needed until now. Mind you, responding to posts on a topic like this is a bit like trying to catch a slippery eel. Just when you think that you have covered the points that have been made, someone goes and makes another post.

Before I start, however, let me echo Mister Underhill’s words and ask everyone to make sure that the discussion stays polite and even-tempered. People have differing opinions on issues like this, and I would ask that everyone respects those expressed by others. There is nothing wrong with courteous and well-reasoned argument but please, as Mister U says, avoid baiting, personal attacks, sarcasm, belittling the views of others etc. This is the first topic that I have been able to get past 10 or so posts, let alone on to a second page, and it seems to me that there’s plenty of life in it yet. So let’s not get it closed down, please.

First, I think it is worth thinking a little about what is meant by “psychological depth”. As I said, I have not read Pullman’s books and cannot say for sure what he meant by this. But, on the basis that the word “psychological” adds something to the phrase, I would guess that he is talking about something more specific than depth of characterisation. There are many aspects to the characterisation of characters in a story, ranging from their appearance, style of speech and actions, through to their background, their character traits and their inner thoughts and feelings. It is this latter aspect of characterisation, the “inner life” of a character, which I think Pullman was talking about (and this doesn’t have to involve turmoil, although those who are struggling inwardly will generally make psychologically more interesting characters and might therefore be described as having greater psychological depth).

The discussion on this thread has widened to take in other aspects of characterisation. For example, Aiwendil, I see much of what you used to illustrate Tolkien’s characterisations of Beren and Hurin as character traits, descriptions and actions. Similarly, the recent discussion initiated by lindil concerning whether the characters in LotR can be appreciated more deeply from reading the Silmarillion and other background materials, deals largely with the characters’ back stories, their histories, rather than their psychological make-up (Galadriel is an exception here, since I think that we do directly learn a lot more about her persona, as opposed to her power, from Unfinished Tales).

Now these other aspects of characterisation can tell us directly about the inner thoughts and the feelings of the characters, because (as Aiwendil has shown in relation to Beren) we can get a good idea of what they are feeling inside, what their motivations, their hopes and their fears are from the character traits that they are given, from their background and history and from their actions. But we rarely get direct access to Tolkien’s characters, and I think that this is what Pullman meant when he made that comment.

I very much like the extract quoted by littlemanpoet from Orson Scott Card’s book. I had not really given any thought to analysing books by reference to these four factors before, but they do make a lot of sense to me. And I would agree that LotR is primarily either a milieu story or (as Aiwendil argues) an event-driven story. Both of these aspects are to the fore in LotR. Characterisation is less so.

That of course is not to say that Tolkien does not develop his characters and that we cannot perceive any psychological depth in them at all. As I have said, Tolkien gives us very little direct access to his characters’ thoughts and feelings, and so, in most cases, we have to work out these out for ourselves from the actions of the characters, their background etc. In some cases, this leads to some very fine character development. As I said in my earlier post, I believe that Denethor and (to a lesser extent) Boromir both have substantial psychological depth to them, yet we never have access to their thoughts. And I agree with Estelyn that we can learn something of Aragorn’s “inner persona” from his outward actions and his interactions with characters like Eowyn, Merry and Ioreth. But there is less psychological depth here because, as I said earlier, noble characters who have no inner turmoil are less psychologically interesting than those who are struggling inside (note that does not necessarily make them less interesting characters, just less psychologically interesting).

While on the topic of Aragorn, I find the question of whether he is a believable character to be an interesting one. I agree with you, Aiwendil, that he need not necessarily be realistic in our real world terms as long as he is believable within the context of Middle-earth. but is a character like Aragorn truly believable in a world where there are also Men like Denethor, Boromir and Wormtongue? Perhaps Aragorn is believable on the basis that the story can handle one thoroughly noble, kind and valiant hero from the Race of Men. But what of Faramir? I have some sympathy for Eurytus’ point that Faramir is a character who is “too good to be true”, especially as we already have one such character in the story, one who is far more central. Certainly, in my view, there is less psychological depth to Faramir than there is to other characters in the same way that there is less psychological depth to Aragorn. Yes, Faramir struggles between his duty to his father/his country and his instinctive acceptance that Frodo is doing the right thing in taking the Ring to Mordor, but he hardly (in the book, at least) struggles for very long over this. To my mind, neither Aragorn nor Faramir is as psychologically interesting as Denethor or Boromir, and they are therefore psychologically less deep. That is not to say that they have less depth as characters (bearing in mind all the other aspects of characterisation that I mentioned). They are simply less psychologically deep.

There are, of course, characters whose thoughts we do have access to. Pullman mentioned Gollum, and clearly we do get a good idea of the struggle going on inside his head. The other characters (other than, rather strangely, a fox [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] ) whose thoughts we have access to are the Hobbits. Child of the 7th Age said:

Quote:
I don't see how anyone could argue that we don't get inside Bilbo's head.
And I don’t either. Bilbo must be the character in Tolkien’s works that we learn most about through our direct access to his hopes, fears, thoughts and feelings. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that Bilbo is psychologically deep (he is a children’s character after all), his character’s persona is well drawn. The same can be said, although to a lesser degree, of the Hobbits in LotR, particularly Sam. We do, at times have direct access to his thought process and this, combined with his traits, actions, background etc allow us to build up a very good picture of his persona. With Merry and Pippin, the insights into their thoughts and feelings are there too, albeit rarer, and so we rely more on their deeds, actions and interactions to build up our picture of them.

What I find strange is that the Hobbit who I think we learn least about, at least in terms of his “inner self”, is the one who is supposed to be the main “narrator” of the story: Frodo. We learn about his character, as with the others, through what he says and does, but only very rarely do we get glimpses of what is going on inside his head. We know that he is struggling with the Ring, but we see the struggle as if we were a bystander, like Sam. We do not see his thought patterns as the Ring tries to tempt him, as we do with Sam. To an extent, we are privy to Frodo’s feelings following the completion of the Quest, but this is only limited. We know that he is psychologically scarred by what he has gone through and that he can no longer remain in Middle-earth. But we do not really learn the extent of the damage from Frodo’s own thoughts. Rather, it is the very fact that he has to sail West that tells us just how badly damaged he is and how much he needs healing.

So I do see Frodo as the one Hobbit about whom we learn the least, and I find this rather curious given his central role both in the story and as the supposed author (or recorder) of much of it.

I feel, therefore, that Pullman does make a reasonably good point. Tolkien’s characters do have depth (of character) and, in some cases, they have psychological depth. Mostly we see this through external factors such as their backgrounds, actions and words (Denethor, Boromir, Frodo) and occasionally we see it directly through having access to their inner thoughts (Gollum, Bilbo, Sam, the fox [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] ). But, ultimately, I do think that Tolkien’s characters lack psychological depth, in comparison with other writers.

Now, as many have pointed out, that is not necessarily a criticism of Tolkien. Perhaps the word “lack” is slightly emotive, suggesting as it does that there is something lacking in Tolkien’s works. But, going back to littlemanpoet’s quote from the book by Orson Scott Card, it is fair to say that Tolkien was not writing a character driven novel. The fact that he does not imbue each of his characters with immense psychological depth cannot therefore be a failing, for that is not what he was setting out to achieve. Hilde Bracegirdle, Lush, and Evisse the Blue all make excellent points, therefore, when they say:

Quote:
It doesn’t seem correct to speak on whether an approach is right or wrong, for a book should be judged on how effective it is, does the method employed work? (Hilde)
Quote:
Was Tolkien good at creating psychologically believable characters? Personally, I'd say, not really.

But I didn't pick up the LotR expecting to find some fascinating Freudian parallel contained within Aragorn's relationship with his sword. (Lush)
Quote:
I find it interesting that some of you feel like 'defending' Tolkien by arguing that his characters have as much depth as any. But by agreeing that Tolkien's strong point was not characterization, but creating a certain atmosphere, the milieu from littlemanpoet's quote - you don't undermine his quality of a writer. (Evisse)
Finally, I just want to touch on this issue of whether an understanding of the source material leads to a greater appreciation of LotR. And it seems to me that there can be no correct or incorrect way to read the book. Granted, someone who has read the Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales will have a greater knowledge of the history of the world in which the story in LotR is set. They will even have a greater understanding of some of the characters (Galadriel, in particular, as I said earlier). But I do not think that you can judge objectively whether they will derive any greater pleasure from it than someone who has just picked up the book to read because they liked the films. Personally, since joining this forum, I have developed a much greater appreciation of Middle-earth, its peoples and its history. I had not even read the Silmarillion, before I joined. Now, when I read LotR, I can appreciate many of the details that passed me by before. But, for all that, I do not think that, however many times I now read it, I will ever recapture that sense of utter wonder and magic that I felt when I first read the book aged 11. In other words, even though there may be greater characterisation, and possibly even greater psychological depth, to be discovered in this source material, it does not follow that we have to seek it out before we can truly enjoy LotR.
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Old 11-17-2003, 12:04 PM   #65
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I think that what Lindil meant (if I may be so bold) is not that powerful characters automatically have psychological depth, but rather that the fact that the character is powerful is one of the pieces of characterization that goes toward establishing psychological depth.
You may of course be so bold A., especially as you are so often able to express my thoughts better than I do [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img]].

This characterization of her power and personality is explicity what I was referring to as being fully developed for Galadriel outside of the Lord of the Rings.

In truth with Galadriel she only came into existence with the writing of LotR, so her backstory is a a sort of front story, nonetheless, she grew [immensely] and her words and deeds in the LotR come to have far greater depth and meaning as we learn it.

Depending on one's pov this can be experienced as frustrating or fascinating or a mixtute, or even ignored. Personally I find it one of the most realistic things about the Legendarium, even now 25 years after first reading LotR I am still understanding the same things not only more deeply, but in many cases far differently. Is all this essential to having a good grasp of the story? No. Is it for having a far greater experience of the plot and characters? I think so.

Eurytus, I do however have my limits as to how far I really wish to have to dig [read search out, cross reference, google and usually purchase] all of these stray bits of lore, and so I hope ultimately to a create a sort of 'one-stop Silmarillion', which will at least narrow things down abit.

[ November 17, 2003: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 11-17-2003, 03:24 PM   #66
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Saucepan Man:

You suggest that a distinction be made between "psychological depth" and "characterization". That's a matter of definition and, since all definitions are arbitrary, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

But one must follow it with the question: how useful or interesting is this definition?

If psychological depth is to be understood as something like the "internal characterization" I discussed earlier in the thread, then it seems quite correct to say "Tolkien's characters generally lack psychological depth". But I have two reservations about stating this and considering the whole business finished.

First of all, as you point out, this sounds like a criticism but need not be one. I agree with what you say here:

Quote:
Now, as many have pointed out, that is not necessarily a criticism of Tolkien. Perhaps the word “lack” is slightly emotive, suggesting as it does that there is something lacking in Tolkien’s works. But, going back to littlemanpoet’s quote from the book by Orson Scott Card, it is fair to say that Tolkien was not writing a character driven novel. The fact that he does not imbue each of his characters with immense psychological depth cannot therefore be a failing, for that is not what he was setting out to achieve.
But I would add a slight complication to this. There are two distinct points here: first, the point from Card's book that some novels are plot-driven or milieu-driven rather than character-driven, and they are not flawed for being so; second, that if "psychological depth" is just one aspect of characterization, there is no reason to think that it is the most important aspect (in other words, some characterizations may be psychology-driven, others may be action-driven, etc.).

So, to sum up: it is first of all not correct to insist that all literature should be primarily concerned with character; it is also not correct to insist that all characterization be achieved by means of the internal method.

The second reason I hesitate to be satisfied with "Tolkien's characters generally lack psychological depth", even given the refined definition, is that I'm not sure to what extent the "psychological depth" aspect of characterization may be distinguished from other aspects. I agree with:

Quote:
For example, Aiwendil, I see much of what you used to illustrate Tolkien’s characterisations of Beren and Hurin as character traits, descriptions and actions.
But what I was trying to show was that these characters have what I called "implied psychological depth". I think that this is related to "real" psychological depth in a very meaningful way. We are given certain information if we are shown Hurin's thoughts, emotions, and so forth. We are given certain other information (about his psychological state) if we are shown Hurin's actions. My claim is that these two pieces of information are the same in very many respects. In other words, I think that implied psychological depth achieves very nearly the same thing as direct psychological depth (not exactly the same thing, certainly). (And you say something along these lines in relation to my analysis of Beren).

Moreover, I think that readers do not sharply distinguish between the psychological aspect of characterization and the other aspects. To some extent, all of these things are tributary to the big picture: the character as a concept, as a perception on the part of the reader.

Perhaps I can make an analogy to psychology. One approach might be called behaviorist, focusing on the external actions of humans, and their reactions to external stimuli. In this kind of approach, terms like "anger" refer to patterns of external behavior, with no reference to the internal. A person is angry if they act in certain ways (like yelling, being rude, etc.). In what might be called the cognitive approach, the focus is on the internal. Here, "anger" refers to a certain neurological state, with no reference to the external. But of course in the end both approaches are talking about the same thing, just in different ways.

So is it really all that significant that we come to know Hurin primarily through his actions, while we (presumably) come to know Pullman's characters through direct inspection of their thoughts? The result is largely the same: we come to know the character. Of course, there are differences in the result - but I think that there are also very important similarities.

In some cases, of course, the very fact that the characterization is achieved by the internal technique is significant, most often in modern literature. For example, in Crime and Punishment the dichotomy between the internal and the external is of central importance. But this is a sophisticated way of wielding the internal technique, and a special case.

Quote:
I agree with you, Aiwendil, that he need not necessarily be realistic in our real world terms as long as he is believable within the context of Middle-earth. but is a character like Aragorn truly believable in a world where there are also Men like Denethor, Boromir and Wormtongue?
I think so. One might just as well say "are Denethor, Boromir and Wormtongue believable in a world in which there are Aragorn, Faramir, Elrond, Galadriel . . .?"

It is a feature of Tolkien's world that there are really, unambiguously good people, really, unambiguously evil people, and people in between. One may well question whether this is true of the real world. But one cannot question whether it is true of Tolkien's world. That's simply the way it is. I don't know how to inquire any further into the question of whether this state of affairs is believable. Certainly it is not inconsistent with the rest of Tolkien's mythology. Certainly it is believable enough to have been used in other great literature (like the Aeneid or the Bible).
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Old 11-17-2003, 05:10 PM   #67
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I suspect that political and religious viewpoints influence folks almost as much as modern vs classic viewpoints on the topic at hand.

My take on Victorian-era sensibilities and hypocrisies is that the culture valued or prized ideals that individuals could not always live up to, all of them being of a fallen race. However, because the ideals were prized, people identified with them and sought after them more openly, it would seem. Christian missionary work, the ending of the practice of black slavery, establishment of hospitals and all sorts of aid societies are perhaps good examples. That was a powerful era of British world influence, and not just political.

And today's society is more skeptical yet more utopian (an unreachable idealism, rather than practical idealism). So people think that an event like Band-Aid or such is actually doing something for someone, rather than just salving the musicians' and promoters' (and media members') consciences that they are so rich but have so little impact on good vs evil. And we think to ourselves, aren't we compassionate!

I conclude that one's worldview does indeed have much to say on how or if one will perceive the incredible depth of character in Tolkien's writings. (However poorly I may have expressed it.)
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Old 11-17-2003, 06:00 PM   #68
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Congrats to Saucepan Man on a great thread. [img]smilies/cool.gif[/img]
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The Saucepan Man: But there is less psychological depth here because, as I said earlier, noble characters who have no inner turmoil are less psychologically interesting than those who are struggling inside (note that does not necessarily make them less interesting characters, just less psychologically interesting).
...though it does get extremely tedious (or challenging) to follow the intricacies of a discussion like this! (I refer to the whole string of thoughts leading up to and including your quote....)

I find the strength of nobility and purpose, and the insight into others' thoughts and weakness, and the gentleness and humility of Aragorn, for example--as pointed out earlier by some contributors here--extremely
psychologically interesting, but not from a Freudian or other modern psychological standpoint.

I disagree with (perhaps my understanding of) your definition of psychological depth, if by it you mean a character has to wallow in temptation to sin, indecision, or some other angst in order that the reader find the character interesting, or to assure that the character be perceived as deep or having something of great value to contribute to today's reader.
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Old 11-17-2003, 06:22 PM   #69
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Aiwendil, it seems to me that there is little between us. But just to pick up on some of the points that you have made:

Quote:
You suggest that a distinction be made between "psychological depth" and "characterization".
I think that a distinction must be made, since characterisation involves so much more than a character's psychological state. It includes such things as a character's appearance and attire. Tom Bomdadil, for example, is characterised by his beard, hat, blue coat and yellow boots. He is characterised in other ways too, but those are definately important aspects of his characterisation.

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That's a matter of definition and, since all definitions are arbitrary, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
I wouldn't say arbitrary. The word "psychology" must be given a meaning. And it seems to me that the "psychological" aspects of a character must, taking a traditional definition of the word, equate to the internal workings of that character's mind. What are their inner thoughts, feelings, motivations, conflicts etc? So, a character who has "psychological depth" is one in whom these aspects of his or her character are richly drawn. And a character who lacks "psychological depth" need not be lacking in other forms of characterisation. We might be told volumes about their appearance, history and deeds, but very little about their inner thoughts.

But I agree that there will frequently be a degree of overlap. As you say, a character's inner thoughts can be implied from the other aspects of a his or her overall characterisation.

In Tolkiens' works, we do have some characters whose inner thoughts we are privy to. With others, we must rely on external aspects of their characterisation to draw conclusions about the inner workings of their minds. But, either way, I would still say that there are very few characters in Tolkien's works who have real psychological depth, by which I mean characters whose psychological make-up is richly drawn.

And that is most definately not a criticism. With LotR, the events portrayed are the main drivers and so we are told only what we need to know about the characters' internal thoughts, feelings, conflicts, struggles and motivations as is necessary for us to understand those events. And, when those events require us to have a greater understanding of a character's inner mind, that character is drawn with greater psychological depth. As I said in my previous post, I believe that it is internal conflicts and struggles which makes a character more psychologically interesting. And this, I believe, is why it is characters such as Gollum, Denethor and (when he takes the Ring) Sam, who end up being portrayed with greater psychological depth.

Quote:
... how useful or interesting is this definition?
I think that it is both, for the way in which an author portrays his characters can give us a greater understanding of what he is trying to achieve. It is, to my mind, interesting to examine how an author uses characterisation to get across the story he is trying to tell.

Quote:
Moreover, I think that readers do not sharply distinguish between the psychological aspect of characterization and the other aspects.
Maybe not consciously. But I think that the way in which an author chooses to use characteristion will affect the way in which the reader sees and reacts to those characters and it will therefore affect the reader's overall appreciation of the story.

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It is a feature of Tolkien's world that there are really, unambiguously good people, really, unambiguously evil people, and people in between. One may well question whether this is true of the real world. But one cannot question whether it is true of Tolkien's world. That's simply the way it is.
Yes, I can see what you are saying. And I do agree. But I think that this only goes to reinforce my view that many of Tolkien's characters lack psychological depth. Characters who are unambiguously good or unambiguously evil will be less psychologically interesting than those who are more ambiguous in this regard, or who are flawed in some way. The wholly good/wholly evil characters may be interesting and richly characterised in other ways, and have important roles to play in the story, but they will lack any real psychological depth.

And this, I think, takes us back to the question of what the author is trying to acheive. One of the themes of Tolkien's work is the fight between good and evil. And so it is necessary that he has characters who represent the two extremes. Within that context, they are, as you say, believable, and so their lack of psychological depth does not represent any failure on Tolkien's part in terms of the story that he was trying to tell.

Edit: Thank you, Theron Bugtussle. And welcome to the thread. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] Indeed, it certainly does require a measure of effort, and some investment of time, to keep up with all the ideas expressed on this thread. [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img]

Quote:
I disagree with (perhaps my understanding of) your definition of psychological depth, if by it you mean a character has to wallow in temptation to sin, indecision, or some other angst in order that the reader find the character interesting, or to assure that the character be perceived as deep or having something of great value to contribute to today's reader.
I am most certainly not saying that the characters who lack any internal struggle are not interesting, or do not have something valuable to contribute to the story, and therefore the reader. I am simply saying that they are psychologically less interesting. We are less concerned with the workings of their mind and more concerned with their deeds. But, given that Tolkien was not setting out to write a psychological study, his characters do not need to be psychologically interesting. They are interesting in other ways. And so we can, of course, still find characters such as Aragorn and Faramir interesting, appreciate their importance to the story, and draw inspiration from them.

[ November 17, 2003: Message edited by: The Saucepan Man ]
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Old 11-17-2003, 06:28 PM   #70
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Re: How much external Tolkien reading is necessary to find satisfaction, understanding, or depth of characterization within LOTR...

I read LOTR first in about 7th-8th grade. Read the Hobbit for the first time probably after LOTR. Read it again once or twice before college. Once or maybe twice in college, probably only twice since then (in the last twenty-summa *coughs* years). I am reading it again right now.

I checked out the Silmarillion from the library long ago, couldn't choke it down, seemed too dry to me. (I was never one of those that loved memorizing names, dates, locations, and winning and losing commanding generals of the US Civil War, either.) And I have read no other Tolkien.

My opinion is I love the richness of characterization in the LOTR, I love everything about it. It has been my favorite book (short of the Bible) for...well, since I first read it. I don't see that I need to read any of the rest of that backstory, mythology, etc., to see the richness of these characters or the richness of the story.

And to the fellow who insists it is just a great adventure story: That may be right for you, but I think you might be missing what I see. I noticed the entire scene with the Black Riders under Weathertop takes up just over a page in the book. (Whereas in the movie it is a major action-adventure episode.) But the rest of the chapter leading up to that page has so much depth and texture. Strider has warned the hobbits they don't fear the Black Riders enough. This chapter fleshes that out, and gives the hobbits much to admire in Strider.

EDIT: In response to Saucepan Man's reply above about psychological interest, I see your point clearly now. And though I may still read the thread, I am less interested in specific psychological character issues, than in my (and others') general interest in the characters. I agree with you that the one area of interest does not rule out the other.

[ November 18, 2003: Message edited by: Theron Bugtussle ]
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Old 11-18-2003, 04:26 AM   #71
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Perhaps there's more going on here - perhaps the real issue is how much we, as individuals, find in the characters.

I'm reminded of Tolkien's On Fairy Stories, where he talks about the way a storyteller & a reader/hearer 'co-create' the story. The reader supplies the imagery of the world as described by the hearer - a river will be 'the River' - a combination of every river the hearer has seen, but especially the first river to register on that individuals conciousness - same with 'the Hill', 'the Mountain', etc.

Perhaps the reason Tolkien's creation resonates so strongly with us is not because of what Tolkien gives us, as much as because we contribute to it.

To take Faramir, again. For me, he is a man trying to live up to an ideal, however painful it might be. He does struggle, but his struggle is not whether or not to take the Ring - he has abiding principles which will not allow him to do that. His struggle is to live up to his ideal - even at the cost of losing all he cares about. To say he would not take it, even if he found it lying by the wayside, & then to take those words as a vow, & be bound by them, doesn't imply a man who is simply too perfect to be believeable, but one who has decided what is right, & will, even if it destroys him & everything he loves, do it.

This is central to Tolkien's philosophy - we should do the right thing, simply because its right, not because it will gain us some kind of advantage - the end of that road is Saruman - he starts off wanting the 'right' side to win, but winning becomes so important in the end, that he only cares about that, & when it looks like the other side will be the winner, he simply changes sides.

Faramir knows what's right, morally, ethically, & he will do it - or die trying, because that's actually more important than achieving 'victory' in this world.

In other words, maybe I've supplied that interpretation of Faramir - maybe its not in the text (though I find it difficult to interpret him in any other way, but perhaps that's just me), but because I see Faramir in that way, he becomes more 'real' to me, a more moving & inspiring character.
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Old 11-18-2003, 04:04 PM   #72
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Quote:
Faramir knows what's right, morally, ethically, & he will do it - or die trying, because that's actually more important than achieving 'victory' in this world.
Excellent illustration, davem! I certainly agree with you about Faramir, and I think the test of this ideal within him (here's the psychological depth of Faramir or part of it, at least, drawn through internal struggle) arises when he is in Denethor's presence. He is obviously looking for approval from Denethor when he returns to Minas Tirith the first time in ROTK. He openly asks for approval of his actions and questions Denethor as to what he would have had him do. The struggle appears to be drawn in Faramir's desire to please his father and his knowledge that Gandalf's philosophy and views on the disposition of the Ring are in fact more in keeping with his own internalized moral code. To me, this is an external method of presenting what Aiwendil calls the "implied psychological depth" of the character without stopping to analyze it explicitly. It helps the pace of the story at this point, as the siege of Minas Tirith comes on quickly after Faramir's departure and beset return. It creates a palpable tension, as felt through Pippin's experience, between Denethor, his son, and Gandalf, suggesting not only a depth of struggle but also a history. It becomes obvious which way Faramir's inner thoughts and ideals are bent and also has the dual effect of resonating within Pippin, creating a tiny internal "Faramir" within Pippin, so to speak. (This ends up becoming manifest after the War too, with his heir being named after Faramir, but I digress...forgive me!). I hope I made an appropriate point, and I must say the discussion is quite an enjoyable one. My thanks to all involved! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Cheers,
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Old 11-18-2003, 05:46 PM   #73
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I have always thought of Faramir as being resigned, with many internal struggles regarding Denethor. But he has a strong sense of duty to his father. Can't help but wonder if one reason he refused the ring is because he knew his father was in no shape to deal with it.
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Old 11-18-2003, 08:51 PM   #74
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Quote:
Perhaps the reason Tolkien's creation resonates so strongly with us is not because of what Tolkien gives us, as much as because we contribute to it.
Good point, davem. One advantage of not being given a detailed analysis of a character's psychological make-up by the author is that we, the readers, can fill in the gaps ourselves. There is no scope to imagine what a character is feeling when we are given direct access to his or her thoughts. And, as you say, our imagination can be assisted in this regard by reference to the characters actions and interactions with others.

Quote:
Faramir knows what's right, morally, ethically, & he will do it - or die trying, because that's actually more important than achieving 'victory' in this world.

In other words, maybe I've supplied that interpretation of Faramir - maybe its not in the text (though I find it difficult to interpret him in any other way, but perhaps that's just me), but because I see Faramir in that way, he becomes more 'real' to me, a more moving & inspiring character.
Don't get me wrong. I have much the same view as Faramir. The clues are there in the text. And I find him to be an inspiring character too. His conversation with Frodo at Henneth Annun includes some of my favourite passages in the book. I was simply saying that I did not see this as giving him any real psychological depth. But then I saw Lyta's post ...

Quote:
I think the test of this ideal within him (here's the psychological depth of Faramir or part of it, at least, drawn through internal struggle) arises when he is in Denethor's presence ... The struggle appears to be drawn in Faramir's desire to please his father and his knowledge that Gandalf's philosophy and views on the disposition of the Ring are in fact more in keeping with his own internalized moral code.
... and was utterly persuaded. Excellent post, Lyta. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 11-19-2003, 05:04 AM   #75
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I think maybe part of the problem in finding depth in Tolkien's characters is that we don't really get exposed to the kind of struggle a lot of them go through - we're more used to the struggle of Boromir - 'Should I take & use the ring or not?'. There are characters who go through this kind of struggle, & we seem more convinced by them. But the other kind of struggle - Faramir's - of knowing what to do already, but struggling to find the inner strength to do it, is rarer these days, where moral absolutes are always questioned. We seem to think that once we know the right thing, we can just do it, no problem, because the real difficulty is in working out what the right thing is. Tolkien shows us that knowing the right thing to do is only the start - doing it is the struggle. This is Frodo's story, in essence - he knows he must destroy the Ring, his struggle is to do it. I think Faramir recognises a kindred spirit in Frodo, & so honours him. For Faramir to retain a sense of decency & respect for life, to retain his highest ideals, in the midst of a bloody war, which from his point of view at that time can only end in defeat is something that is both admirable & incredibly moving (and something Tolkien himself saw & struggled with personally, perhaps, in WW1). Faramir is 'fighting the Long Defeat', even though he knows that all he can hope for ('hope without guarantees', again) is 'defeat or fruitless victory', because evil will always arise again). But he still does it, because its right.

One of my greatest disappointments with the movie was the portrayal of Faramir - both sides seem too much alike, both, mentally at least, seem to be using the Ring already. It seems reduced to a battle between equally brutal & uncompromising sides, the only difference between them being the 'good' guys are better looking. We actually need a Faramir character, to see there is something worth fighting for, that Gondor is worthy of surviving. Faramir is just that - as I said, a living symbol of the survival of the highest Numenorean ideal. If Gondor can still produce men like Faramir, it is worth fighting & even dying for. I also think Frodo, in the state of hopelessness he has reached at that point, needs to see Faramir. He needs that inspiration. Like Merry, he has seen that there are things worth fighting for - he may not understand them at the time (though by the end I think he does) but he can know them & honour them.
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Old 11-19-2003, 05:52 AM   #76
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Quite a few people on this thread have stated that we get all the psychological depth we need in Tolkien from the character’s actions. I cannot see how this can be the case.
If we take one of the examples used, that of Hurin, and look at one of the major “actions” he performs, that of slaying the 70 odd trolls.

What does this really tell us about his psychology? In reality it tells us nothing. We know what he did, we can only guess at the reason he did it.
Now he states that he has done it to guard Turgon’s retreat but is that the whole psychological reason for him to make that choice.

Why do people make self sacrificial choices? Do they do it because the gift of foresight tells them that Turgon will be the origin of the saving of Middle Earth? If that is the reason does it tell us anything much about the psychology of the person involved?
Would someone do it because they are consumed by bloodlust? Are they a naturally violent person? Are their selfish, perhaps arrogant reasons behind wanting to do it. Perhaps they want to be a hero. Perhaps they want to create feelings of guilt in those that survive.
There are a myriad of reasons that might make someone choose such a hopeless route. Some of which may be a construct of upbringing, some may be spur of the moment.
The fact that the reason we are given is that of foresight does not, in my view, increase our psychological awareness of this man.

Another thing that has been stated is a viewpoint to the effect of “why do we even need to get in their head in the first place?” The reason I would posit is because that is the most interesting place to be. Far more exciting to be inside the head of someone doing something amazing than just to be watching it. You effectively become the character.

Some examples, David Beckham scoring the World Cup winner. Neil Armstrong becomes the first man on the moon. The Beatles play Shea Stadium.

Now this are all exciting things. But what is the most interesting option? To watch these events or to be the World Cup winner, with all the attendant emotions that would follow? To be the first man on the moon, doing something that no man has ever done before, something that decades previously was a work of fiction. To play Shea Stadium with the biggest band in the world, surrounding by thousands and thousands of screaming fans?

Now I can’t speak for everybody but I know where I would rather be. Feeling is better than merely seeing.

Another issue with not getting inside someone’s head within a book is that you cannot truly know where that person is coming from. An example. In George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (which is a book that lets you inside the heads of the characters) the first couple of books are told predominantly from the viewpoint of the members of one family. From that perspective the actions of one of the other major characters makes them seem a truly evil and immoral person. Now if this person was to have their psychology defined by their actions as some here claim is acceptable, then that would be the analysis of their character. However in the later books this person is given a viewpoint. Now their actions do not change but the impression of the psyche that one gets is now totally different. Suddenly many of the actions seem reasonable or at the very least understandable from this person’s perspective. Now they are far more interesting a character for it, far removed from being a “stock baddie”.
This method therefore is far more effective for seeing the psychological depths of the character.
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Old 11-19-2003, 06:12 AM   #77
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Quote:
Faramir knows what's right, morally, ethically, & he will do it - or die trying, because that's actually more important than achieving 'victory' in this world.
Doing the right thing regardless of the consequences IS victory, real victory, lasting victory that transcends time. But don't we all wish it was easier? And is that which makes us resent Faramir when we are weak and easily swayed?
Quote:
The struggle appears to be drawn in Faramir's desire to please his father
A devastatingly effective temptation, and I think a personally applicable concept for many readers.
Quote:
Tolkien shows us that knowing the right thing to do is only the start - doing it is the struggle. This is Frodo's story, in essence - he knows he must destroy the Ring, his struggle is to do it.
Another personally applicable concept, as several threads in this forum have shown; when Frodo "fails" to destroy the thing of his own volition, our reaction to his failure is very telling.

To quote an old friend (lmp), this thread is deep, deep...

To rephrase several folks here, Tolkien "shows" us the character, rather than "telling" us the character (as lmp would say); actions rather than thoughts. To a modern reader I think this is often easier to swallow, especially when demonstrating virtue. I love good preaching, but few writers seem to pull it off in storytelling these days (George MacDonald had that gift, but it's rare, I think.) Modern authors who try to preach within a story only seem to annoy me even when I completely agree with what they are preaching about. But show me a character who shows me the truth via his actions, and I'm hooked. (And that does explain why I've been so hooked on so many of Tolkien's characters over the past thirty years!)

[ November 19, 2003: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 11-19-2003, 09:57 AM   #78
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mark, I agree with you, but I think that the true victory lies in overcoming the realization that your cause is hopeless and that you will probably die trying to fulfill it. I think that the greatest victory in Lord of the Rings wasn't the Battle of Pelennor Fields, or the Destruction of the Ring, rather, it was Sam's realization that he would go on to whatever end, even if it meant dying, to make sure that the Ring was destroyed and Sauron defeated. It was that last victory that made the book what it was, and made Sam the hero that he was.
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Old 11-19-2003, 03:12 PM   #79
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The Saucepan Man wrote:
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Aiwendil, it seems to me that there is little between us.
Agreed.

Quote:
I wouldn't say arbitrary.
I meant "all definitions are arbitrary" in the most logical, pedantic sense. Of course, some definitions are more practical than others, or more useful than others. And in this case I think that your definition is practical and to a great extent useful, as well. But I think that many times people can entrenched in pointless debates because what they are fundamentally differing over is the definition of some term - and there is no "right" definition.

Quote:
Maybe not consciously. But I think that the way in which an author chooses to use characteristion will affect the way in which the reader sees and reacts to those characters and it will therefore affect the reader's overall appreciation of the story.
Yes, I agree. My point was simply that, in large part, the psychological method of characterization and whatever other method one might choose have the same goal, and the same result. These may not be exactly the same results; and there may also be secondary results that arise from one or the other method. But they can be, with some justification, lumped together in the category of "characterization", which is meaningfully distinct (though not disjoined) from plot, milieu, and so forth.

Quote:
But I think that this only goes to reinforce my view that many of Tolkien's characters lack psychological depth. Characters who are unambiguously good or unambiguously evil will be less psychologically interesting than those who are more ambiguous in this regard, or who are flawed in some way.
I think we're hitting an area where the inexactness of the definitions is causing confusion. One could very well say that an unambiguously good character is psychologically deep because we see all that there is to see of his or her psyche - it just happens not to be very complicated. One could also say that an unambiguously good character is not psychologically deep because his or her psyche is simple and thus lacks depth. These things seem contradictory only because each employs a slightly different definitions for "psychologically deep".

Eurytus wrote:
Quote:
If we take one of the examples used, that of Hurin, and look at one of the major “actions” he performs, that of slaying the 70 odd trolls. What does this really tell us about his psychology? In reality it tells us nothing. We know what he did, we can only guess at the reason he did it.
I think that perhaps you misunderstand the argument that a lot of people are making here.

I certainly do not think that the fact that Hurin kills 70 trolls (which, incidentally, may be a "fact" invented by Christopher Tolkien - but that matters little) means that he is psychologically deep. Indeed, I didn't even mention it when I sketched a brief analysis of Hurin's character:

Quote:
Hadorians are typically tall and fair-haired, Hurin is fair-haired but short (the opposite of his son, who is tall but dark-haired). This means that while we can expect many of the associations of the House of Hador to apply to him, others will not. Chief, perhaps, is his steadfastness, which is more typical of the House of Beor. There is a great deal of interesting contrast with Morwen (a striking character herself). When Lalaith died, Morwen "met her grief in silence and coldness of heart. But Hurin mourned openly" (Narn i Chin Hurin, UT 64). Hurin's steadfastness is a complicated thing: in a sense he defies Morgoth to the end, refusing to betray Turgon. But in another sense he fails, for he is made bitter and grim, and he brings ruin to Brethil and to Doriath. It is fascinating to compare the Hurin of the first part of the Narn with the Hurin of "The Wanderings of Hurin".
Now this may not be psychological depth in the sense defined above by The Saucepan Man, but it certainly is characterization.

The fact that he fought valiantly to cover Turgon's retreat gives us just one piece of information about him: he is valiant. It hints at steadfastness, which is also seen elsewhere, and it hints at friendship or devotion to Turgon, which is also found elsewhere.

Quote:
Would someone do it because they are consumed by bloodlust? Are they a naturally violent person? Are their selfish, perhaps arrogant reasons behind wanting to do it. Perhaps they want to be a hero. Perhaps they want to create feelings of guilt in those that survive.
There are a myriad of reasons that might make someone choose such a hopeless route.
Certainly. And if Tolkien had been writing a different book (indeed, a different kind of book) he might have given Hurin one of these motivations and explored it. But the point has been made several times that Tolkien's works are not primarily character studies. The point has also been made that it is an important feature of Tolkien's world that there really are people like Hurin who will valiantly fight just because it is the right thing to do.

Quote:
Another thing that has been stated is a viewpoint to the effect of “why do we even need to get in their head in the first place?” The reason I would posit is because that is the most interesting place to be. Far more exciting to be inside the head of someone doing something amazing than just to be watching it. You effectively become the character.
You identify some of the benefits of the internal/psychological approach. No one has, as far as I recall, denied that there are such benefits. But there are benefits to the external approach as well: it is less likely to impede the plot; it allows us to come to know characters in the same way we come to know people in real life, it makes (though only through implication) the subtle argument that it is what we do that is important rather than what we think (the fact that the opposite point can also be made by taking the other approach in no way negates the validity of this one); in the particular case of Tolkien, it allowsfor an essential feature of his world - the existence of unambiguously good characters.

You cite an example of internal characterization from Martin. I cited one from Dostoevsky. Both are examples of the internal method being used in a very particular way to acheive a very particular result. I haven't read the book you mentioned, but I love Crime and Punishment. I think it uses the internal method extremely effectively. But I don't think that means that the internal method is the only valid method.
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Old 11-19-2003, 07:27 PM   #80
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Davem, as I have said, I agree with your description of Faramir's character as decent, noble and inspirational. But I would maintain that these aspects of his character do not by themselves give him psychological depth. If these characteristics were the sum total of his persona, he would be no more than a one-dimensional character, single-minded in his desire to do good. He might struggle to find the inner strength necessary to put his high-minded values into action, but that alone would not provide psychological depth, for it would in itself be a single-minded struggle.

Where Faramir's psycholgical depth lies (to my mind) is in the tension between these and other aspects of his character. Lyta, I think, has put her finger on this perfectly in identifying the tension between his noble values and the compulsion that he feels to do his duty to his father and his people and to earn his father's respect. As mark12_30 said, this is a struggle with which many readers will be able to identify.

I actually feel that film Faramir has more psychological depth, since the tension that Lyta has identified is brought out to a greater extent (and even more so in the extended edition of TTT). Admittedly, his nobility suffers as a result, since his desire to do his duty and earn his father's approval is initially dominant in this struggle, and so he is a different character from the one we know from the book. On the other hand, it looks as though film Denethor will be have less psychological depth than the book character, since it seems that his unsympathetic characteristics will be played up and that his own internal struggle will hardly, if at all, be touched on.

Eurytus, you said:

Quote:
Quite a few people on this thread have stated that we get all the psychological depth we need in Tolkien from the character’s actions. I cannot see how this can be the case.
I am not by any means saying that this is the case with all of Tolkien's characters. Many of Tolkien's characters do, in my view, lack psychological depth since they are not required to have psychological depth for the purpose of the story. But there are characters whose actions and interactions do give them psychological depth.

As for Hurin, Aiwendil has pointed out that his actions do give us a measure of his personality. I would not say that he is particularly psychologically deep but, as Aiwendil said:

Quote:
this may not be psychological depth in the sense defined ... by The Saucepan Man, but it certainly is characterization.
As for the relative merits of the internal and external methods of characterisation, I can do no better than agree with the points that Aiwendil has made. This really depends upon what kind of book you want to read. There is validity in both methods but, properly done, neither one is better than the other. They simply acheive different results.

Mark12_30, you said:

Quote:
To rephrase several folks here, Tolkien "shows" us the character, rather than "telling" us the character (as lmp would say); actions rather than thoughts. To a modern reader I think this is often easier to swallow, especially when demonstrating virtue.
Actually, I would say that Tolkien "tells" us most of his characters, in the sense of portraying them largely by reference to their actions and interactions, rather than "showing" us them by giving us direct access to their inner thoughts. But I think that the point is still a valid one. A story told by reference to the inner thoughts and feelings of a worthy and high-minded character would probably be dreadfully dull, and almost certainly give the reader the feeling of being "preached" at. Whereas, when we are told of those noble values by reference to a character's heroic deeds, the story (if well-written) gains interest and the values portrayed become far more acceptable to the reader.

Aiwendil said much the same in describing the benefit of the external approach in the context of the story that Tolkien set out to tell:

Quote:
... in the particular case of Tolkien, it allowsfor an essential feature of his world - the existence of unambiguously good characters.
I do still have one point of contention with you, though, Aiwendil:

Quote:
One could very well say that an unambiguously good character is psychologically deep because we see all that there is to see of his or her psyche - it just happens not to be very complicated.
I do not think that a character can be said to have psychological depth when his or her psyche is not complicated. To my mind, it is only when there is some tension, or at least interplay, between aspects of a character's persona that he or she begins to gain psychological depth. So that is where I am coming from in formulating my definition of "psychological depth".
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