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Old 08-18-2020, 02:23 PM   #1
mindil
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Reality Theory

This is a new theory that I am proposing. It is a new way to look at the Legendarium in the light of HoME and the History of the Hobbit. I’ve searched a bit in fandom and haven’t seen anything like it, though if I’m reinventing someone’s wheel, I’d love to see what’s been done already by others.

The idea I’m proposing is interesting in itself, but it can be made into a fascinating project, similar to the New Silmarillion, a project of weight that attracted me to the Barrow Downs in the first place.

The idea is simply this: Some scenes in HoME/HotH have a compelling immediacy; some of the “story as foreseen” sketches and furiously scribbled sections likewise have an urgent immediacy. CT’s comments on the Lost Road (LR) and the Notion Club Papers (NCP) report that JRRT indeed had vivid dreams of the sort described in those stories. The LR and NCP themselves insist that such dreams merge into some sort of reality. Tom Shippey (RtME) and CT (HoME) and Letters all document that JRRT believed to some extent that his stories were real. In fact, it tends to seem like JRRT believed quite fully in the reality of Arda, but wouldn’t risk his relationships by saying so. Further, fandom has intuited for decades that people can “fall into middle earth,” and JRRT’s works (On Fairy Stories, LR, NCP) insist that such group intuitions are often reliable.

The way JRRT sidled his dream experiences very hesitantly into the notice even of his closest friends (only briefly, through the vehicles of LR and NCP) shows how cautious he was about discussing them. It is possible that the raw material CT sifted for HoME was full of much more explicitly vivid experiences of Middle Earth, that CT left out from respect for his father’s desire not to seem crazy.

In short, I believe that many scenes or snippets of scenes in the Legendarium were experienced by JRRT personally in Arda, either through dreams or through some access to an Alternate Universe where Arda resides. In one way or another, he was sometimes (often or occasionally?) actually in contact with or even inside Arda. This is true even if Arda was only a product of lucid, vivid dreaming.

But while certain parts of the Legendarium were accessed this way, other parts were not, and were invented the way any other author does. And yet a third subset were guessed at based on the parts that were experienced directly.

What I would love to do is to tease out what “really happened” (if you believe it was a dream), or what really happened (if you believe in AU), separate from what JRRT confected, and further, figure the nature of his experiences of the “real” parts, and the authorial motivations for the concocted parts. But to do that requires a large team. I can’t do it myself.

Last edited by mindil; 08-18-2020 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 08-18-2020, 02:25 PM   #2
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But I’ll make a start. For starters, the Notion Club Papers provide an illuminating window into the limitations and possibilities of these direct experiences. Ramer, Tolkien’s alter-ego, explains that he can’t very well choose what to see, he can only aim in a direction and absorb what comes up. Further, once he has experienced a scene, he cannot experience it again; he can only remember it as best as his memory will provide, and it often evaporates, just as dreams usually do. Third, speech, in these experiences, is understood telepathically, and he cannot usually remember the actual words at all, only their content and something of their flavor. Fourth, he has an easier time entering into the experiences of inanimate objects than of conscious beings. Finally, when he did observe conscious beings, he usually was not apparent to them, and only very rarely was physically present enough to interact.

My extrapolations from these facts are as follows. First, knowing he would see a scene directly only once, JRRT endeavored to collect as much ancillary information about a scene as he could before attempting to experience directly the object of his interest. Then, when he would focus on the scene directly, he could attend much better both to the details and to the bigger picture. So, for example, he probably hung out, ghost-like, in many hobbit taverns, popping in and out over many ME decades, listening to stories, trying to puzzle out the continuation of the Baggins saga, before he put himself into the party field to see what really happened. Since he could only attend that party once, he made sure to know as much about it as he could beforehand. But making heads and tails of the snippets of tales he heard was a major labor, full of guess-work and mistakes, which accounts for the many quite different versions of the beginning of FotR in HoME.

For example, JRRT might have listened to tales told about the War of the Ring well into the Fourth Age, collecting stories from guardhouses and pubs in Minas Tirith before moving closer to the citadel. And he may have failed to see the scenes he wanted most. He probably did not manage to attend Aragorn and Arwen’s wedding, and he certainly did not see Arwen’s end in Lorien.

All this explains why, in HoME and HotH, he was so often far off the mark in his original understandings of the story he was trying to tell. It also explains the desperate rush of some drafts and the frequent “story foreseens”; when he got a vision, he had to dash it onto paper before he lost it.
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Old 08-18-2020, 02:26 PM   #3
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Second, the telepathic reception of Elvish, Westron and the rest can explain everything about JRRT’s endless tinkering with the languages and the names. He had an intense, but totally elusive sense of the feel of those languages, and of the idea of how they work. He found Welsh and Finnish closest to the feel he remembered, and desperate to reconstruct the languages he longed for, he started to re-invent them, using these similar languages as models. Some phonological rules felt right, some grammatical structures felt right, but none were precisely what was at the edge of consciousness, in just the way that so many dream experiences remain just out of reach. So when he wondered what Aragorn’s name was, and tried a dozen options, he was trying to hit the one that felt closest to some slippery sense of what that name ought to be.

Third, JRRT’s affinity for the inanimate denizens of alternate reality (here, Arda) explains why his landscapes are the most vivid parts of his stories.

Fourth, it is likely, Smith of Wooten Major style, that at some point, JRRT stopped having dreams/visions, and had to finish his work on imagination and extrapolation alone. This would account for the radical difference of many of his later changes to the Legendarium.

Finally, I propose that JRRT was visiting Arda from childhood, and that he was a regular guest as a child at the Cottage of Lost Play. Since the stories he heard there were all heard telepathically, he heard them with the understanding of a child – which would make Thu a giant cat in BoLT I, yet later Sauron would be understood as a maia. A child would register Tinfang Warble and Goblin Feet (written up faithfully, though years later), and an adult would register the beauty of the Eldar.

And of course, he himself was Eriol/ Aelfwine. He heard the Silmarillion directly from the elves of Tol Eressea. But how many versions did he hear? And how complete were the stories? Were his dream-visions cut off sometimes? Did they start in the middle or skip essential facts (like Beren being a man/ elf)? These are the things I would love to tease out of a close reading of HoME.

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Old 08-18-2020, 02:30 PM   #4
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Following this line of thinking leads to all sorts of interesting things. But I think I've posted enough for starters.

If any of you are interested, I've got another page of speculation to share (the stuff above was 2 1/2 pages) that is already written, and then - as you like it.

I hope you are as intrigued as I am.

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Old 08-18-2020, 02:52 PM   #5
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By the way, this is NOT a discussion of canon!

Whatever JRRT invented is just as much canon as what he experienced. I'm just curious to know what parts of canon he experienced or learned directly, and what parts of canon he made up for story-telling purposes.

And, if possible, what direct experiences he might have had that he left out (and are not canon), and why.

In short, I want to know two things: What really happened (both in canon and out), and what we can see of JRRT's pure authorial craft.
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Old 08-19-2020, 07:45 AM   #6
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Hmm. I feel like the biggest issue you'd need to address to make this stand up (whether as 'Tolkien drew inspiration from a series of connected dreams' or 'Tolkien actually dreamed of actual Arda') is Numenor. The one dream we conclusively know Tolkien actually incorporated into Middle-earth was the Great Wave - so why didn't he write down anything about Numenor until 20 years after he penned the Fall of Gondolin?

... and I can actually answer it straight away. The opening pages of HoME V include this line:

It was too long a way round to what I really wanted to make, a new version of the Atlantis legend.

In your scenario, Tolkien would have, probably after his conversation with C.S. Lewis, deliberately focussed on the Wave, and received something similar to Lowdham's dreams from the Notion Club Papers. The earliest extant Numenor (or "Numar") text already sets it into the Legendarium, by mentioning Tol Eressea, so it's clear that he made the link right from the start.

(Christopher makes mention of an 'Atlantis-haunting', which may just be the Great Wave again.)

I assume you've put together a list of times Tolkien may have implied he dreamed something? I'd be interested to see that. The Great Wave and Lowdham's Report are obvious inclusions, as is the Cottage of the Play of Sleep. The opening of the Book of Lost Tales also implies he dreamt of faery music:

Then slept Eriol, and through his dreams there came a music thinner and more pure than any he heard before, and it was full of longing. Indeed it was as if pipes of silver or flutes of shape most slender-delicate uttered crystal notes and threadlike harmonies beneath the moon upon the lawns; and Eriol longed in his sleep for he knew not what.

This is a concept that comes up a few times, notably in connection with Tinfang Warble:

"Tinfang Warble has gone heartbreaking in the Great Lands, and many a one in those far regions will hear his piping in the dusk outside tonight."

What else have you got listed? I'm inclined against attributing the Children of Hurin to dreams - there's too much resonance with Scandinavian legends - and am dubious about suggesting it of any part of the Third Age. LotR and all its related texts ring too true as an author's process, whereas the Book of Lost Tales in particular has a 'sprang full-formed' feel to it. But you, having thought longer on it, may know otherwise.

(Random thought: I say 'any part of the Third Age', but Eeriness, dated 1914, has a certain resonance with Frodo's vision in Galadriel's mirror. A fun thought experiment: what if the dreams & visions mentioned in LotR are all Tolkien had to work from - how much of the story can you reconstruct?)

~

I will say, also, that I'm glad you haven't stumbled onto the path of "It must have been a dream because nobody could create that!". Tolkien absolutely could have come up with every single idea in the Legendarium by himself; the only question is whether he did.

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Old 08-19-2020, 08:15 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
(Random thought: I say 'any part of the Third Age', but Eeriness, dated 1914, has a certain resonance with Frodo's vision in Galadriel's mirror. A fun thought experiment: what if the dreams & visions mentioned in LotR are all Tolkien had to work from - how much of the story can you reconstruct?)
Just for giggles, I went through and did this for Fellowship. It turns out there's a lot of it there!:

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 2
[Frodo] found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.
The Misty Mountains.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 5
Eventually [Frodo] fell into a vague dream, in which he seemed to be looking out of a high window over a dark sea of tangled trees. Down below among the roots there was the sound of creatures crawling and snuffling. He felt sure they would smell him out sooner or later.

Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams. Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea. He started to struggle up the ridge towards the tower: but suddenly a light came in the sky, and there was a noise of thunder.
The Black Riders (possibly), & the call of the Sea, with specifically the White Towers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 7
In the dead night, Frodo lay in a dream without light. Then he saw the young moon rising; under its thin light there loomed before him a black wall of rock, pierced by a dark arch like a great gate. It seemed to Frodo that he was lifted up, and passing over he saw that the rock-wall was a circle of hills, and that within it was a plain, and in the midst of the plain stood a pinnacle of stone, like a vast tower but not made by hands. On its top stood the figure of a man. The moon as it rose seemed to hang for a moment above his head and glistened in his white hair as the wind stirred it. Up from the dark plain below came the crying of fell voices, and the howling of many wolves. Suddenly a shadow, like the shape of great wings, passed across the moon. The figure lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away. The voices wailed and the wolves yammered. There was a noise like a strong wind blowing, and on it was borne the sound of hoofs, galloping, galloping, galloping from the East. ‘Black Riders!’ thought Frodo as he wakened, with the sound of the hoofs still echoing in his mind.
Isengard, Gandalf, the Eagles, and the Black Riders for sure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 7
At his side Pippin lay dreaming pleasantly; but a change came over his dreams and he turned and groaned. Suddenly he woke, or thought he had waked, and yet still heard in the darkness the sound that had disturbed his dream: tip-tap, squeak: the noise was like branches fretting in the wind, twig-fingers scraping wall and window: creak, creak, creak. He wondered if there were willow-trees close to the house; and then suddenly he had a dreadful feeling that he was not in an ordinary house at all, but inside the willow and listening to that horrible dry creaking voice laughing at him again.
Old Man Willow (which would explain why the Bombadil diversion is so prominent, and why Tolkien wanted tree-men in from the start).

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 7
It was the sound of water that Merry heard falling into his quiet sleep: water streaming down gently, and then spreading, spreading irresistibly all round the house into a dark shoreless pool. It gurgled under the walls, and was rising slowly but surely. ‘I shall be drowned!’ he thought. It will find its way in, and then I shall drown.’ He felt that he was lying in a soft slimy bog, and springing up he set his foot on the corner of a cold hard flagstone.
???

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 8
But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.
Frodo's journey to Aman.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 8
'What in the name of wonder?' began Merry, feeling the golden circlet that had slipped over one eye. Then he stopped, and a shadow came over his face, and he closed his eyes. 'Of course, I remember!' he said. 'The men of Carn Dűm came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! the spear in my heart!' He clutched at his breast. 'No! No!' he said, opening his eyes. 'What am I saying? I have been dreaming. Where did you get to, Frodo?'
The fall of Arnor, and the Witch-King. If the Barrow-Wight was a presence in this dream, it again explains the Bombadil diversion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 10
He seemed to be asleep. "I thought I had fallen into deep water," he says to me, when I shook him. Very queer he was, and as soon as I had roused him, he got up and ran back here like a hare.'

'I am afraid that's true,' said Merry, 'though I don't know what I said. I had an ugly dream, which I can't remember.'
The deep water again; Tolkien really hammered this for Merry, but never really made use of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 11
Frodo soon went to sleep again; but his dreams were again troubled with the noise of wind and of galloping hoofs. The wind seemed to be curling round the house and shaking it; and far off he heard a horn blowing wildly.
The raid on Crickhollow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 12
[Sam] lay down again and passed into an uneasy dream, in which he walked on the grass in his garden in the Shire, but it seemed faint and dim, less clear than the tall black shadows that stood looking over the hedge.
The Shire, and the return of the Shadow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 12
Frodo lay half in a dream, imagining that endless dark wings were sweeping by above him, and that on the wings rode pursuers that sought him in all the hollows of the hills.
The Winged Nazgul.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 13
[Frodo, on the Earendil poem]'I was half asleep when you began, and it seemed to follow on from something that I was dreaming about.'
Probably Earendil.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 14
[Boromir] 'For on the eve of the sudden assault a dream came to my brother in a troubled sleep; and afterwards a like dream came oft to him again, and once to me.

'In that dream I thought the eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying:

Seek for the Sword that was broken: [&c]
The heart of the story, really.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 15
'They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathűr.'
The Mountains of Moria.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 15
A great sleepiness came over Frodo; he felt himself sinking fast into a warm and hazy dream. He thought a fire was heating his toes, and out of the shadows on the other side of the hearth he heard Bilbo's voice speaking. I don't think much of your diary, he said. Snowstorms on January the twelfth: there was no need to come back to report that!

But I wanted rest and sleep, Bilbo, Frodo answered with an effort, when he felt himself shaken, and he came back painfully to wakefulness.
In theory, both Frodo and Bilbo, though this is very much a narrative device.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 19
[Sam's vision in the Mirror]
Heaps of stuff! The entire Cirith Ungol episode and the Scouring.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FotR 19
[Frodo's vision in the Mirror]
Gandalf, Saruman, Bilbo the scholar, the fall of Numenor, the origin of Gondor, arguably the Battle of the Pelennor and the White Ship, plus of course Sauron.

Gollum's appearances throughout FotR are also repeatedly described as dreams, and 'lantern eyes in the dark' is a perfectly plausible dream.#

Put together, you actually get a lot of the story even in the very first book. Frodo's journey is almost all there, in fact - from Black Riders chasing him from the Shire clear through to the Ship sailing.

Of course, dreams are also a time-hallowed literary foreshadowing device, so this doesn't actually prove anything.

hS
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Old 08-19-2020, 02:11 PM   #8
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I never made a list - this was an idea that evolved as I was reading HoME and HotH. "Reality theory" seemed clear-cut before I ever read Lost Road or Notion Club Papers. In fact, it was fascinating to see Ramer confirming all my previous speculations about how Tolkien's dreams must have worked.

My own thought process went like this. I asked myself: Where did all Tolkien's material come from? Was it all concocted or might any of it have "really happened," they way he kept saying that he was recording what really happened? Well, for starters, the Red Book story was a clearcut fabrication. If he were working from a written text, it wouldn't have the sort of false starts that HoME documents. Even if a written text had had fragments and multiple versions, they wouldn't have allowed for drafts that looked like his at all.

Similarly, he could not have witnessed the whole story directly - again, his drafts would have looked very different had he done that. So what did his drafts look like? Like a person who had listened to the story, not read or seen it. And like a person who had listened to it in fragments, and in many different versions. But additionally, his story was interspersed with very vivid, sporadic visual depictions. Sometimes they came after a long struggle with different versions, and sometimes they preceded a struggle with different versions. And always, these strong visuals were random, and not always the most helpful to resolving the narrative dilemmas he was struggling with. So if he was able, on occasion, to actually experience parts of his story, he clearly couldn't visit that vision often or long enough to conclusively pin down whatever information he needed. And if that were true, he would know this limitation, and would therefore be very judicious in using his capacity to enter into his story. He would purposely choose to listen to tales told about his story, because he could listen to a story being retold as often as it was retold. And this fits very well with his primary interest in mythology, which was always oral and was always a matter of variations in retelling.

So I guessed that when it came to Middle Earth, somehow he had gotten into the habit of tuning into it as an Alternate Universe and listening for tales and using those tales to build his mythology. And with his penchant for authenticity, he preferred to get as much of the story of Arda right as he could, before editing and adding to suit his this-worldly audiences.

What I looked for, then, wasn't statements of dreams, but statements of hearing stories, and the first thing I noticed was that he constantly described Elvish as a language that was understood by the mind even without understanding the words. He even described Rohirrish as a language the hobbits intuited. This fit so well with his drafts of his languages and names, that it was clearly an autobiographical statement. He couldn't have rewritten his elvish poems and names so heavily from draft to draft if he had been able to remember the actual words (or if he had simply invented them without there being some external model he was trying to match). It must have been that he remembered the import of what was said, and then had to reconstruct the words to fit it.

This, then, fit perfectly with the Cottage of Lost Play and the Way of Dreams - there he listened to the First Age stories. His life in Sarehole wandering freely in the fields provided the perfect opportunity to wander into Elfland, as he recorded many children doing. And later, living in foster homes, he spend so much time in his rooms "working on his languages," he likely had started to learn how to continue to visit Tol Eressea - which I assumed was through some sort of trance state. But what seemed probably was that in these trances, he continued to listen to stories, not see them.

I think he started to visit Arda visually mostly with the writing of the Hobbit. As I was going through the HotH, I took notes about what seemed like it had been heard, and what seemed like it had been seen. Most was heard, but some was seen. And lots was concocted. The difference was apparent by a literary analysis (I've taught literature) of the drafts, which I don't recall by heart, but can find if I dig up my old notes.

At any rate, the Legendarium is chock full of people telling stories - in pubs, in halls of fire, around campfires, in parlors - this is self-evident. The drafts show which bits were heard conclusively enough not to need revision and which were not, and which bits were gaps that he filled in himself, or were changes he made to help the story. Often the drafts will say, "No, it was X," but sometimes they say, "Make X into Y." This is significant, as are many other indications.

So the actual visions of the narrative were few, but the collection of information from Arda itself is massive - I'd guess about half the story. And the confecting was much greater for Hobbit and LotR, which were being published for a lay public, while the Silmarillion material was adjusted pretty much only to fill in gaps or reconcile different versions. He might have played with it for publication had he ever gotten so far.

In my original post(s), I started with the LR/NCP dream ideas, because they confirm that Tolkien indeed had AU experiences (real or imagined) of exactly the nature that his writing leads one to expect. But the interesting thing is to follow where the writing actually leads, to see what might have really happened.

His mentioning dreams in LotR does not necessarily reflect the dreams he himself might actually have had. Rather they reflect his experience that dreams of that sort are extremely significant and that such dreams tend to reflect reality. So I wouldn't equate your list of dreams with experiences he had in/of Arda - though of course they might be. I'd figure it out by literary analysis of the drafts. Which I hope to start doing in another day or three, if there's enough interest.
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Old 08-19-2020, 02:14 PM   #9
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He even described Rohirrish as a language the hobbits intuited
That, I think, was because Rohirric was an ancestral form of Westron (rendered in-book as Anglo-Saxon and English)- and a rather overgenerous notion of modern Anglophones' capacity for the 'intuiting' of Alfred's tongue. (Sure, Tolkien did- but he was Tolkien.)
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Old 08-19-2020, 02:15 PM   #10
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I think if you want dreams-cum-reality material, The Notion Club Papers is a gold mine. Including learning dead languages via dream.
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