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Old 08-27-2008, 11:31 AM   #41
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Is a writer of Fantasy literature absolved of any responsibility for such things, in the way a writer of other kinds of fiction is not?
You know already know, or soon will know (with the young'n running about), the answer to this question.

"He/She/It made me do it!"

Over the years I always found it odd when a parent, after some tragedy befalls his/her child, looks for some cause of the problem without the use of a mirror. Song lyrics, video games, sugar content, TV, cartoons, and surely fantasy have all been blamed for bad/stupid/fatal behaviour, and yet what of the millions exposed to the same that just somehow miss the message?

It's like science; you might want to consider to what use your creation will be put before letting the monster out the door. That said, you can't keep people from exercising their right to be stupid, and I would make sure that the back of the title page had some of that loyerly language absolving you of everything...just in case.
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Old 08-27-2008, 11:44 AM   #42
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Well indeed. There are, alas, one or two stupid people in the world who would stick their hand in the fire if you told them to do so

I can also think of a couple of well known religious texts which some stupid people have taken as carte blanche to do some very cruel things. Just because that particular prophet didn't consider that somewhere down the line an idiot might be inspired to pick up a Kalashnikov doesn't mean he shouldn't have said that his religion was really cool, in his opinion

Same goes for fantasy. If someone is such a clown that they think wearing a replica One Ring really will make them invisible then it's not really the writer's fault. Obviously there are limits, such as it would have been unwise of JK Rowling to fill the Harry Potter books with examples of Draco Malfoy dealing crack behind the broomstick sheds, but mostly, the writer isn't to blame for the fools who (mis)read his books.

In the case of Tolkien's depictions of war, in my opinion, it's about the Aesthetic he chooses.
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Old 08-27-2008, 12:07 PM   #43
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Yes, but, when I talk about an author's 'repsonsibility' I mean 'responsibility' to the truth - ie, to be honest about what war involves. Should you show the facts about death in battle because they are the facts? Should some Hobbits die of lung cancer because that's what happens to some smokers in the primary world?

Or can the author just say 'This is my world, & in my world battles don't involve such butchery, & smokers don't get cancer'? But if the author takes that approach, completely divorcing 'his' world from the real world, can he/she expect us to treat anything else in that world seriously? I'm not suggesting that not showing the reality of warfare involving people attacking other people with sharpened bits of metal will lead to readers going out & joining the army, because it will give them an overly romantic view of battle (or that showing Hobbits smoking with impunity will encourage readers to take up smoking). I'm asking whether writing in the Fantasy genre absolves the writer from any responsibility to tell the truth about those things?
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Old 08-27-2008, 12:34 PM   #44
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Yes, but, when I talk about an author's 'repsonsibility' I mean 'responsibility' to the truth - ie, to be honest about what war involves. Should you show the facts about death in battle because they are the facts? Should some Hobbits die of lung cancer because that's what happens to some smokers in the primary world?
Is the author's intent 'telling a story,' or writing a detailed description of the horrors of war? I don't have the text with me (I get searched at the door), so from memory I don't think that the Battle of Azanulbizar was written to make it seem as if war were fun. From near Rauros to the Pellenor (I think), in LotR we continually lose named persons in battle. Theoden loses his son (off stage) and his Doorwarden Háma, who we got to meet (and whose corpse gets abused). The dour-handed Rangers suffer losses, and we lose Denethor II from madness. Don't know how dim of a bulb one has to be to not see that, in war, not everyone comes back, physically and mentally, even when your side wins.

We are given some description of Lothlorien - to me, not enough - so that we can at least picture what the author had in mind regarding Paradise. Enough may have been written to demonstrate the otherworldliness of the place. How much description then do we need to visualize something that is far more common (and base)?

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Or can the author just say 'This is my world, & in my world battles don't involve such butchery, & smokers don't get cancer'? But if the author takes that approach, completely divorcing 'his' world from the real world, can he/she expect us to treat anything else in that world seriously? I'm not suggesting that not showing the reality of warfare involving people attacking other people with sharpened bits of metal will lead to readers going out & joining the army, because it will give them an overly romantic view of battle (or that showing Hobbits smoking with impunity will encourage readers to take up smoking). I'm asking whether writing in the Fantasy genre absolves the writer from any responsibility to tell the truth about those things?
War is ugly and smoking/tobacco are bad. What more do we need to say? War, when defending one's land against an aggressor bent on slaughtering you, is a good thing even when people do get ground up like so much meat. Tobacco, still a legal product, when used in moderation, does not have to lead to cancer/emphysema in all cases.

Does a fantasy author have to go through all of these caveats? Or can he/she simply show that some things are bad, some good, and one has to choose between?
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Old 08-27-2008, 01:18 PM   #45
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You realise how long it is since you've regularly posted when you try & rep people & find you can't ...anyway..

One argument is that the only responsibility a fantasy writer has is to create a convincing secondary world, internally consistent & true to its own laws, but.. what if a writer does their job so well that they convince a reader that war is cool & exciting & that, if death results it is a beautiful & poignant thing, rather than ugly & dirty butchery? Or that smoking is an entirely safe activity?

Is a writer of Fantasy literature absolved of any responsibility for such things, in the way a writer of other kinds of fiction is not?
Allow me to amplify on Tolkien a bit, and then I will reply directly.

As I inferred in a previous post, perhaps the time period in which Tolkien was writing precluded such graphic presentations of reality (whether in a fantasy or fictional presentation). Editorial boards and censors certainly were more prevalent than they are now (consider the present ludicrous movie rating system as the afterbirth of more stringent earlier censorship). James Joyce's Ulysses, first published in its entirety in 1922 was banned in the U.S. as pornographic and obscene (although nowadays it is merely annoying), which a district court judge didn't overrule until 1932.

If one looks at the movies of the time period, the sanitization is near complete in regards to war represented in films (Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn's blades are not even required to puncture their enemies' bodies to cause instantaneous death). Ethically speaking, wholesale lopping of heads and body parts was forbidden during most of the first half of the 20th century, and it seems certain Tolkien would have to subscribe to some level of self-control in the matter of graphic presentation (even though, as Alatar pointed out, there is the head-lobbing of the orcs at Minas Tirith).

Another classic fantasy of the 1st half of the 20th Century, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, also doesn't dwell on gorgets being knit to necks by axes or knights struggling on with arrows through their testicles or through their cheeks or noses (as detailed in the chronicles of Dom Pero Nino, a famous 15th century Castilian knight). The time period and the taste of the readership (or perhaps more so the taste of the censorship) must be taken into account for the level of graphic violence or sexuality presented in a novel (or movie).

Now, to your posits, davem.

I don't believe the writer of a fantasy (or fiction) is bound to present factual data in a graphic manner, nor is a writer bound by a sense of morality or ethics to maintain an idealized view of 'the good' or the 'correct' because such ideas are transient and relative even geographically and individually during any specific era. The writer may present truths or lies depending on his/her perspective in an effort to sway the reader to their point of view, or may try to impress upon the reader an altered vision of reality based on the author's perception, whether for political, religious or emotional ends, or a writer may simply create based on their personal convictions and store of knowledge and not care at all if what is published meets anyone else's criteria.

During WWI H.G. Wells referred to Germany as 'Kiplingistic', obviously equating the Kaiser's roughshod imperialism in terms of Kipling's jingoistic glory of war. I mention that because I saw you posted a poem elsewhere on this forum regarding the death of Kipling's son in WWI. Who then was right, Wells, with his aversion to senseless war and foolhardy glory, or Kipling's reverence of righteous war and patriotism?

So, in the end, a writer is not absolved nor seeks absolution for what he writes, his work is accepted or not accepted on whether or not it is read. There are many works of literature that were derisively panned or ignominously ignored during an author's lifetime that are now considered classics, and conversely, many great classics are now considered tedious, overwrought and dated. In the end, most writers who cater directly to an audience are viewed as hacks, while authors who followed their own convictions are considered visionary. *shrugs*
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Old 12-03-2008, 05:05 AM   #46
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I don't believe the writer of a fantasy (or fiction) is bound to present factual data in a graphic manner, nor is a writer bound by a sense of morality or ethics to maintain an idealized view of 'the good' or the 'correct' because such ideas are transient and relative even geographically and individually during any specific era.
Now I've found a moment to get back to this thread....

In his book on Towton Christopher Gravett speaks of bodies found in a grave pit from the battlefield:

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The skeletons demonstrate the damage of which medieval weapons are capable, probably in many cases against partially unarmoured bodies. The fact that arrows can punch through bone reinforces the visual record of contemporary manuscripts & shows, for those who look carefully, that flesh was cut through like butter as shafts buried themselves almost up to the fletchings in unprotected bodies. Such wounds inflicted on war-horses helps demonstrate that here was one reason why armoured riders frequently dismounted in battle. Secondly, multiple wounds & possible mutilation show the ferocity that is unleashed in a battle when adrenalin is pumping & comrades are falling. In the bitter climate of the time, with scores to settle, there was little charity shown to a wounded foe. The other item of note is that several of the skeletons exhibit previous wounds that had healed up. Here were men who in some cases had experienced the horrors of close combat & suffered for it , yet had faced the same agonies again on that freezing, bleak field on Palm Sunday. (Gravett 'Towton 1461')
The highlighted section reinforces the point I'm making here - men behave in a less than 'ideal' way on the battlefield - adrenalin, anger, desire for vengeance all make otherwise ordinary, decent blokes behave like orcs. Yet in Tolkien's world only the Orcs behave like orcs. Knights in armour bearing shining swords may look cool on screen or in paintings, but anyone who has seen actual armour & genuine medival weaponry can have no doubts that they are designed to hurt, maim & kill real human beings. A knight in shining armour in a pre-Raphaelite painting is a beautiful image. A man at arms on the battle-field bearing down on a partially armoured footsoldier & about to stove in his skull with a pole-axe is not. Maybe Tolkien felt the medieval world (& by extension medieval warfare) was more 'civilised' than the meat grinder of the Somme, but actually there was little difference in terms of behaviour, only in terms of the technology used to dispatch the enemy. Tolkien clearly knew this, but chose not to acknowledge it - chose, in fact, to say the opposite. The point is, one doesn't have to describe in graphic detail bereaved & vengeance driven Gondorians hacking apart & mutilating Orcs & Southrons - one can simply state that they did it. But in Tolkien's world they simply didn't 'descend' to that level. Yet, given what we know of human nature, we have to say 'only in Middle-earth'.....

EDIT

Its not, I think, that Tolkien glorifies war so much as 'sanitises' the rough end of it. One example that springs instantly to mind is the death of Boromir. The fact that he dies pierced by arrows means that when Faramir sees the Elven boat bearing him pass by he looks as if he is sleeping peacefully & thus even in death he retains dignity. He does not die on the recieving end of an Orc poleaxe which takes off half his face so that Faramir sees him looking like he died an agonising death, choking on his own blood & broken teeth . We don't encounter any of our heroes with ugly, badly healed facial wounds.

WARNING - THESE LINKS SHOW THE EFFECT OF MEDIEVAL WEAPONS ON THE SKULLS OF VICTIMS FROM THE GRAVE PITS AT TOWTON. AVOID LOOKING IF YOU'RE AT ALL SQUEAMISH.

Poleaxe blow to face http://www.the-exiles.org/Images/lej...xe/image11.gif
Various head injuries from pole weapons/swords http://www.brad.ac.uk/acad/archsci/d...resgrp/towton/

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Old 12-03-2008, 10:58 AM   #47
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Its not, I think, that Tolkien glorifies war so much as 'sanitises' the rough end of it. One example that springs instantly to mind is the death of Boromir. The fact that he dies pierced by arrows means that when Faramir sees the Elven boat bearing him pass by he looks as if he is sleeping peacefully & thus even in death he retains dignity. He does not die on the recieving end of an Orc poleaxe which takes off half his face so that Faramir sees him looking like he died an agonising death, choking on his own blood & broken teeth . We don't encounter any of our heroes with ugly, badly healed facial wounds.
I would agree that Tolkien offers a sanitization of war, but as I mentioned previously, I think that has a lot to do with 1) the heavier censorship and higher moral codes of the time, and 2) the 'dignified' presentation of a a fierce faery epic in the medieval mold (like TH White's Once and Future King, or its precursor Le Mort D'Arthur), which purges the utterly gross from its heroes, and does not dwell on the true mayhem and obscene violence that was medieval war. Another instance from an earlier period, Shakespeare's Henry V, presents a glorified version of Agincourt as well, considering a great number of France's preux chevaliers died not of battle wounds inflicted by Henry's noble few, but rather horribly drowning face down in mud, unable to rise from the muck due to their armor, or by stealthy kerns jabbing their daggers through the visors of the fallen.

I suppose in regards to a medieval faery tale, many readers of the time (and presently for that matter) do not necessarily want to dwell on arrows ripping through testicles, gorgets knit to necks by axes, and brave knights walking about dazedy with their disemboweled entrails dripping in their bloody hands. We really don't see such presentations of graphic violence in fantasy literature until the 1970's (like Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), or in films of a medieval nature even later on, like Braveheart (if you remember Excalibur from the 70's, it rarely even displays any blood on those ultra-shiny metal coifs).
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Old 12-03-2008, 11:20 AM   #48
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But (& maybe this is just me) I never get the sense that the kind of 'attrocities' we've both noted (including at Towton both noses & ears being hacked off fallen - but not necessarily dead- opponents) are not commited by the 'good guys'. Again, I'm not asking for graphic descriptions of such attrocities in Tolkien's work - I don't think that would work - but I am asking about the absence of such behaviour on one side. Tolkien's Men are good, upright & entirely moral even in battle while watching their best friends hacked down by Orcs. And if a warrior can fall under a hail of arrows (no graphic desriptions of blood spurting or internal organs bursting) he could also fall by being 'struck in the face' by a poleaxe or halberd (again no more 'graphic' description than that would be needed). Deaths in Tolkien seem to be overly clean & neat &, while tragic, are not really shocking or disturbing to the reader - in reality just about every death in a medieval battle would be horrible.

Death may be Tolkien's theme, & the inevitability of it is clearly laid out before the reader, but the fact of ugly, violent dying is avoided not, I repeat, not because Tolkien refuses to indulge in graphic descriptions of killing, but because Tolkien's characters all tend to die clean & tidy deaths - & usually live long enough to make a moving final speech...
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Old 12-03-2008, 08:52 PM   #49
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Death may be Tolkien's theme, & the inevitability of it is clearly laid out before the reader, but the fact of ugly, violent dying is avoided not, I repeat, not because Tolkien refuses to indulge in graphic descriptions of killing, but because Tolkien's characters all tend to die clean & tidy deaths - & usually live long enough to make a moving final speech...
Yes, but all such Tolkienish requiems, dirges, soliloquoys, threnodies, elegies and epitaphs are due to his adherence to the classical form. Here we have an 'old school' Oxford Don steeped in Beowulf and Arthurian cycle translations (and more important to my point, his love of Greek drama in his youth); thus, his prose was considered archaic in style even when it was first published (and almost alien to the bulk of fiction produced in the 40's and 50's), and hence, I suppose, its timeless quality.

Take Greek tragedy, for instance. From what I can recall of my brief encounters with Aristotle (I would add Racine and Corneille, but I'm not sure if Tolkien was interested in French tragedy), noble characters do not indulge in the gross and they do not knowingly commit reprehensible acts (these vile acts, such as cold-blooded murder, are generally reserved for the nemesis of the piece). Evil is never rewarded (which is very Tolkienesque) and those with noble character retain this inherent quality even when facing death or worse. There is a reason Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe from the Greek.

Boromir is a near perfect Greek tragic hero, don't you think? Boromir exhibits the four principal characteristics of a tragic hero: 1. He is of noble birth, 2. He has a tragic flaw (hamartia), 3. He has a reversal (a catastrophe), and 4. he undergoes a catharthis, or recognition, a realization of his own flaw that caused his reversal. And, as is usual in Greek tragedy, his recognition comes too late to prevent his succumbing to the reversal.

Such attention to classical form leads inevitably to the death speeches (Shakespeare's plays are chock full of them), the lack of viciousness and sanguineness in the noble characters (like Aragorn or Faramir), the inevitable fall of evil characters, and the many tragic heroes in Tolkien's work that follow the Greek example (Turin and Boromir as prime examples).

I really don't think Tolkien had it in himself to portray violence of a truly sustained and graphic nature. It was just not part of his literary experience. And perhaps because he personally experienced the horrors of WWI, it stratified his reliance on classical forms, whereas other authors and poets of the WWI era sought catharsis through venting that horror, and thus are considered more 'modern' than Tolkien.
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:36 AM   #50
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Not much time for a long reply at the moment, but I did want to just throw out the following -

You're right in everything you say about Tolkien's motivation, about the sources he draws on & how hw has used them. But

Tolkien had seen real warfare. He knew how men behave in battle, & principally, he knew that when men fight & die such deaths are not clean & tidy, but dirty, painful & ugly, & usually leave the victim neither time nor capacity for a noble speech. A real life Boromir would in reality have been more likely to die screaming for his mother & spewing blood- & the sound of tens of thousands of such death screams (not just from men, but from animals too) across the Pelennor would have added an extra hellish dimension.

The real point is - Tolkien may be true to his traditional sources but he is lying through his teeth when it comes to the reality of death in battle - & he must have known he was lying . Does the fact that he was writing a 'fantasy' novel excuse him? Was he presenting the opposing view to a WWI veteran like Wilfrid Owen - or was he trying to pretend that he hadn't written what he did? One can right about a morally justified war, but ought one to lie about such a simple fact of human nature that when men fight & kill in battle they do horrible things to each other, & that an arrow in the gut, or a sword slash to the face, is a vicious & ugly way to die. Is such a 'fantasy' morally justifiable after the Somme?

Tolkien's 'sin' is not that he fails to depict violent death in a graphic way - its that he goes to the other extreme & shows it as too clean & neat.

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Old 12-05-2008, 03:17 AM   #51
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The real point is - Tolkien may be true to his traditional sources but he is lying through his teeth when it comes to the reality of death in battle - & he must have known he was lying . Does the fact that he was writing a 'fantasy' novel excuse him? Was he presenting the opposing view to a WWI veteran like Wilfrid Owen - or was he trying to pretend that he hadn't written what he did? One can right about a morally justified war, but ought one to lie about such a simple fact of human nature that when men fight & kill in battle they do horrible things to each other, & that an arrow in the gut, or a sword slash to the face, is a vicious & ugly way to die. Is such a 'fantasy' morally justifiable after the Somme?

Tolkien's 'sin' is not that he fails to depict violent death in a graphic way - its that he goes to the other extreme & shows it as too clean & neat.
Yes, clearly Tolkien took another path than Wilfrid Owen, Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon:

(Excerpt from 'Counter-attack', 1918)
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,— the jolly old rain!


(Excerpt from 'Suicide in the Trenches', 1918)
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.


I suppose, in retrospect, that it is for the very lack of graphic violence and dwelling on the gross and horrific that Tolkien receives such adulation, and a wide demographic of readers. I doubt very much that Tolkien's work would find its way into grade school (or primary school) libraries if he dwelt on clumps of brains and clots of hair and sodden buttocks like Sassoon. It is the restrained nature of the presentation that allows it to be enjoyed by eight year-olds and eighty year-olds alike.

I don't recall him referring to this topic specifically in his letters, but I'll give them a brief perusal over the weekend to see if he offered any clarifications regarding his depictions of battle or violence.
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Old 12-05-2008, 12:18 PM   #52
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But its the kind of death, rather than the 'graphic' description of it, that I'm questioning - though Tolkien is actually quite graphic as far as descriptions of death go in his work. Its just that the 'graphic' detail confirms how clean & noble death in battle is in his world. Boromir is 'pierced with many arrows', & he dies in the arms of his King, confessing his sin & being absolved...but 'fortunately' not a one of those 'many' arrows hits him in the face & he doesn't utter his final words punctuated by bloody coughs.

Again, Tolkien acknowledges the inevitability of death but not the reality of how people actually die in battle. He lies about it. Now, its a fantasy novel, & Tolkien is free to create a secondary world where death in battle is always neat & clean & leaves one enough time to speak one's moving final words. But

If Tolkien's claim that LotR is about Death is to be accepted, even given the fantasy form & the freedom it permits a writer, shouldn't we expect an honest depiction of the process? Even death in a just war (whatever a 'just war' is) is more often than not painful & ugly.
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Old 12-05-2008, 12:26 PM   #53
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Again, Tolkien acknowledges the inevitability of death but not the reality of how people actually die in battle. He lies about it. Now, its a fantasy novel, & Tolkien is free to create a secondary world where death in battle is always neat & clean & leaves one enough time to speak one's moving final words.
Why would you think this? Tolkien gave some fairly graphic death scenes in The Simlarillion. Not that it makes the story better or worse; the story... none of his stories are about that.

There's no "sin" here in Tolkien's writing. I'm not certain why you've contrived an obligation for Tolkien to portray death scenes graphically. And if he's to be criticized for this contrived obligation, then you may as well fault him for not portraying love scenes as graphically as possible. Or for not having Noldor kings excuse themselves to use the bathroom and graphically describing that, as well.
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Old 12-05-2008, 12:42 PM   #54
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In many ways Tolkien partakes of a certain Edwardian (if not Victorian) attitude towards military pursuits, so it is quite possibly a cultural value he demonstrates.

This Edwardian trait is not represented in this war memorial, the very beautiful and very moving memorial to the Canadian dead at Vimy Ridge: Walter Allwards' Stone Memorial at Vimy. See this multimedia version: Experience Vimy

Rather, Tolkien's depiction of war more closely resembles the kind of heroic stance represented by these statues:

Marshall Foch in London:



(This one is rather different from the statue over his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris, so I am assuming it represents a British style of war memorial.)

Wellington in Hyde Park, London:




Edward VII in Queen's Park, Toronto, transplanted from Delhi, India and so representative of the colonial or empire style; note that he is not here given his nick name of endearment, Tum Tum:



I am allowed but three images per post, so I cannot show any more to exemplify the idea that Tolkien participates not just in a heroic style from ancient epics but also in what was for him a contemporary cultural preference. (For instance, the statue of Wellington on horseback in Glasgow, which was initially presented as one of these heroic equestrian models, now sports, with civic acceptance, a traffic cone on Wellington's head. This is a particularly Scottish response which does not seem in keeping with Tolkien's war model; nor is it emulated south of Hadrian's Wall.)

We can imagine a Middle earth war memorial to the War of the Ring in this style which would display Gandalf astride Shadowfax rather than a sorrowing figure of a woman mourning her war dead.

(btw, I would swear I received a notification of post #52 in which it was attributed to Lalwende rather than davem. *insert kindly smile here* )
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Old 12-05-2008, 12:58 PM   #55
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Why would you think this? Tolkien gave some fairly graphic death scenes in The Simlarillion.

Not that it makes the story better or worse; the story... none of his stories are about that. I'm not certain where this obligation to portray death scenes graphically comes from. If he's to be criticized for this contrived obligation, then one may as well fault him for not portraying love scenes as graphically as possible. Or for not having Noldor elves excuse themselves to use the bathroom.

Its to do with how people die, not how graphically that death is described - or whether it should be/needs to be described realistically - go back to the Poul Anderson essay I linked to a while back http://www.sfwa.org/writing/thud.htm - is Anderson right? Even though Tolkien does not depict love scenes one assumes that the act takes place because there are children in the stories. One assumes that characters use the bathroom even though Tolkien doesn't mention it - & that is the whole point: if Tolkien was to depict love-making or toilet practices we would expect them (even if only obliquely) to be 'true' to the basic facts of the primary world (ie babies are not brought by the stork or get found under gooseberry bushes & bodily waste products do not turn into rainbow coloured bubbles which pop out of the character's ears). This is because Tolkien repeatedly stressed that 'Middle-earth' is meant to be this world in the ancient past.

The original question was about how much freedom a writer of fantasy should have, & what boundaries, if any, are required. If a writer like Pullman can be criticised for his 'misrepresentation' of Christianity, can (should?) Tolkien be criticised for his 'misrepresentation' of death in battle (as just one example)?

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
the idea that Tolkien participates not just in a heroic style from ancient epics but also in what was for him a contemporary cultural preference.
Yes - & that would stand if Tolkien had written LotR pre-WWI, or if he hadn't lived through the horror of the Somme. But he wrote it during WWII, & he knew the reality of battle, so he's not writing from ignorance, but actually denying the truth in order to present a falsehood more easily & effectively.

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Old 12-05-2008, 01:19 PM   #56
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Its to do with how people die, not how graphically that death is described - or whether it should be/needs to be described realistically - go back to the Poul Anderson essay I linked to a while back http://www.sfwa.org/writing/thud.htm - is Anderson right? Even though Tolkien does not depict love scenes one assumes that the act takes place because there are children in the stories. One assumes that characters use the bathroom even though Tolkien doesn't mention it - & that is the whole point: if Tolkien was to depict love-making or toilet practices we would expect them (even if only obliquely) to be 'true' to the basic facts of the primary world (ie babies are not brought by the stork or get found under gooseberry bushes & bodily waste products do not turn into rainbow coloured bubbles which pop out of the character's ears). This is because Tolkien repeatedly stressed that 'Middle-earth' is meant to be this world in the ancient past.

The original question was about how much freedom a writer of fantasy should have, & what boundaries, if any, are required. If a writer like Pullman can be criticised for his 'misrepresentation' of Christianity, can (should?) Tolkien be criticised for his 'misrepresentation' of death in battle (as just one example)?
Anyone can be criticized for anything. Our responsibility is to look at the criticism, its origins, and its reasons, and then decide if it has merits.

For example, I find Phillip Pullman to be petty and repulsive. He mocks Lewis and Tolkien- men who wrote for the good of people, and admits that he only wrote his series to tear down their works.

(Ironically, I find Pullman to the personification of Tolkien's Melkor: bitter at not being able to create, he instead takes the creations of others, twists them, and then congratulates himself on his own genius.)

The sad part is that, because he is crafty with words (and, oooooh, so avant garde, dahhhling...), people ignore that he's brassy, uncouth, and unimaginative. At the risk of being repetitive, it's quite sad that so many people like someone whose only objective is to tear good things down. Sad. Very sad.

So, criticism of a bitter, petty iconoclast like Pullman is different from criticism of someone like Tolkien, who had no malice behind his work.

As for Tolkien, graphic portrayal of death would take away from his writing style, which was based on lore (for lack of a better term) and, especially in the Silmarillion, reflective of that style.

All I see are apples and oranges here.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:00 PM   #57
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As for Tolkien, graphic portrayal of death would take away from his writing style, which was based on lore (for lack of a better term) and, especially in the Silmarillion, reflective of that style..
Again, its not about 'graphic' descriptions - its about the simple facts of how a person dies if, say, he is 'pierced by many arrows', or if his horse rears up & then falls on top of him. When you read that Boromir was laying there stuck like a pin cushion did you at any point think 'Hmm, I wonder whether that will have an adverse effect on his bodily well-being as it would if it happened to someone in our world?' Probably not. Boromir was pierced by many arrows. He died. The point is how someone in that position would have died. If Tolkien follows Primary world 'laws of nature' in having arrows kill a person, should he not also be bound by the same Primary world laws in depicting how they would kill him? We know how men in the heat of battle behave (& Tolkien had seen it first hand) so should he not depict it honestly?
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:01 PM   #58
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Yes - & that would stand if Tolkien had written LotR pre-WWI, or if he hadn't lived through the horror of the Somme. But he wrote it during WWII, & he knew the reality of battle, so he's not writing from ignorance, but actually denying the truth in order to present a falsehood more easily & effectively.
Well, first of all, if I remember the Letters correctly--they aren't at hand--it was the experience of the Somme which inspired and intensified Tolkien's intimate preoccupation with the heroic epic and started him off on his imaginary life with the Legendarium, so whether he wrote LotR in the twenties or the forties, it's imaginative roots lay with his WWI experiences. And that would include Edwardian culture, which, some here have suggested, highly colours his Shire. A writer's imaginative inspiration does not march lock step with historical chronology but answers to a different drummer and there's a great deal more in LotR which fits with gentrified Edwardian (and even Victorian) culture than the battle scenes. His sensibility was not modern, although his intellect was superb. We might as well ask why Victorians glorified war. After all, the crucial point about Tolkien's work is change or metamorphosis, from one age to another, so why shouldn't his sensibility lie with the age that passed, the Edwardian one, rather than with the sensibility that came of age as a result of the War to end all Wars?

We really do not know how Tolkien coped psychologically with his war time experience and the loss of his close friends. We do know that something caused a writer's block during his writing of LotR during WWII. But we do not know if his writing was a deliberate, conscious falsehood or if rather it represents his imaginative preoccupation with battle epics such as Maldon and Beowulf. He is not writing 19C novels of realism (or empiricism as it sometimes is referred to). He is weaving something else entirely. We can discuss the quality of his depictions but in good faith we can't ascribe to him lies and falsehood.

EDIT: Any more than, as Gwathagor mentions below, all artists are so described. I suppose this was why Plato gave poets a bad rep.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:32 PM   #59
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem View Post
If Tolkien follows Primary world 'laws of nature' in having arrows kill a person, should he not also be bound by the same Primary world laws in depicting how they would kill him? We know how men in the heat of battle behave (& Tolkien had seen it first hand) so should he not depict it honestly?
If we are going to set down that rule, the trouble then becomes deciding to what extent and in what detail he must represent his scene in order for it to be depicted "honestly." Regardless of the author, regardless of the book, there will always be information left out - and so, according your principle, every single work of literature is simply a different degree of dishonesty.

But authors have been lying in order to tell the truth for thousands of years, and I see no reason for them to stop now.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:33 PM   #60
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Again, its not about 'graphic' descriptions - its about the simple facts of how a person dies if, say, he is 'pierced by many arrows', or if his horse rears up & then falls on top of him. When you read that Boromir was laying there stuck like a pin cushion did you at any point think 'Hmm, I wonder whether that will have an adverse effect on his bodily well-being as it would if it happened to someone in our world?' Probably not. Boromir was pierced by many arrows. He died. The point is how someone in that position would have died. If Tolkien follows Primary world 'laws of nature' in having arrows kill a person, should he not also be bound by the same Primary world laws in depicting how they would kill him? We know how men in the heat of battle behave (& Tolkien had seen it first hand) so should he not depict it honestly?
Again, I ask you why you contrive this obligation for him to depict violence graphically. And if violence has to be, then why not sex, too? Or mundane functions of the body? Etc, etc, ad infinitum.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:45 PM   #61
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Old 12-05-2008, 05:03 PM   #62
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I started off disagreeing with davem, that Tolkien did show war 'as it was', but he's right - there is something oddly sanitised about how he presents war of this style (in fact war of any type - all war is grim). I know what davem means - it's not that we don't have descriptions of sinews being torn from bodies and eyes popping as arrows meet them, it's that we don't actually know how many of these people died or were injured at all.

This shouldn't really be an issue, however it is very much an issue if Tolkien was trying to tell his readers about the cruelty and brutality of war. How can we know just how cruel and brutal war is if all we are shown is clean swords and high words on the battlefield? It wasn't like that. War of that type was bloody and visceral and we merely get glimpses and have to fill in the gaps ourselves. And if we have no knowledge of the realities of a medieval style battle and all we have to go on are films and TV shows then we're never going to get a picture of just why this war was brutal.

If Tolkien was trying to avoid showing us medieval warfare as it was then we have to ask why? Him trying to ape classical literature isn't really acceptable as a reason to my mind as his primary interest was not in classical literature but in Northern epic and the Icelandic sagas certainly don't scrimp on brutality.

War does odd things to the mind. I wonder if Tolkien actively tried to avoid the grimmer realities, and why did he do this? Did he do it in some way to try and make his heroes seem somehow 'higher' than us? We know Eomer has a 'fell' mood on him but we don't know what he does. To some he will cleanly chop off Orc heads, but to others he would likely be cutting ears off living Orcs and laughing as he does so. Should Tolkien have left room for us to read into it what we liked according to our knowledge of military history?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
In many ways Tolkien partakes of a certain Edwardian (if not Victorian) attitude towards military pursuits, so it is quite possibly a cultural value he demonstrates.
Yes, I think you're onto something here. Tolkien, despite his experience, seems to cling more to the old world view of battle if we merely take his descriptions of military action as an example (neatly leaving aside any underlying philosophy...too much a can of worms). Like the older style war memorials, his depictions of war are what you could almost call undemocratic - we see the leaders mostly, the main characters, we see very little of the 'ordinary Tommy' shaking in his boots as Orcs swarm around him. It's a very old view of things - to be swept away after WWI, and exemplified by a change in the statuary - see the stark and democratic Cenotaph designed by Lutyens which commemorates no one leader, but all involved equally.

To be fair, it may be a necessity of the way he writes as we follow characters and experience Middle-earth through their eyes and conversations, and to bring in random other characters may disrupt that flow. But still there are sticking points as davem says, like the various death scenes which are wholly unrealistic. Still sad of course, but not real, and not enough to put us readers off taking up swords.

Interesting too, as prior to WWI death in War (and out of war, too, so it seems) was almost taken as a given and was something that in general was not abhorrent, and seen as inevitable or as fulfilling a 'duty' but nowadays it's universally seen as utterly tragic, often criminal and evil; and with that shift in thought we also moved from Arts which focussed on the leaders/heroes and moved into Arts which examined the ordinary folk caught up in it all. Did Tolkien move on too?

It's a question worth asking and not trying to avoid just because we love Tolkien so much!

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(Ironically, I find Pullman to the personification of Tolkien's Melkor: bitter at not being able to create, he instead takes the creations of others, twists them, and then congratulates himself on his own genius.)
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Old 12-05-2008, 05:25 PM   #63
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Yep - I did originally post this as Lal - one of the problems of sharing a computer...

Quote:
"it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry."
War, real, true, war, is not 'purged of the gross', though. War is gross - except, perhaps, in Tolkien's depiction, where is is tragic, moving, heart-breaking, but never really, truly, gross. If Pelennor Fields was depicted in all its Primary World reality, with the ground a bloody morass, men dying in agony, trying to stuff their spilled entrails back into their stomachs, screaming for their mothers & sweethearts, with arrows & spears skewering them, limbs missing (oh, imagine Braveheart meets the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan), then we'd have a very different take on the event, & on the story as a whole. And let's not forget the attrocities committed out of fury & vengeance on helpless & dying opponents.

Oh, & all the 'good guys' line up to fight - there are no white feathers handed out, no-one deserts, either from cowardice or sheer bloody terror (& thus there's no need for such 'cowards' to be executed as a lesson to others....)

What we do get is a competition between Legolas & Gimli to see who can slaughter the most Orcs.

But why is all that missing? And is it ok that its missing? Does the fact that Tolkien was writing a 'Fantasy' novel excuse that absence?

Is 'purging the gross' sufficient excuse?
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Old 12-05-2008, 07:39 PM   #64
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I beg to differ 100%
Lalwendë,
You are most free to beg and differ, and do both at 100%. I'll find Pullman and his cheap works loathsome, regardless.


davem,
Again, Tolkien depicts love in the Rings and in the Silmarillion. However, he doesn't get bogged down describing, as Shakespeare called it, "the beast with two backs". Nor is there any need. Nor, most importantly, would it fit the style of writing he used which was reflective of ancient epics.

So, why contrive this odd requirement for him to describe war in bloody detail? Just curious, but why is it so important to you?
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Old 12-05-2008, 07:46 PM   #65
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Weell,

Does the Prof minimise the suffering and grossness of war?

Go not to the elves for they will say both yes and no!

Yes, obviously no graphic descriptions of horrendous injuries.

No, the clues are there if you look for them

What on earth am I on about? Well, JRRT wrote when every adult knew more than they wished about the reality of war, his generation, what was left of it, served in the horror of trenches, then everyone was exposed to total war and strategic bombing in WW2. So he doesn't need to describe it all in graphic terms.

Those that know are given the cues - Sam deploring the battle of men versus men, the dead marshes, the decapitated head missiles, it is plain that there are atrocities and 'grossness' in Middle Earth warfare, but they are left, mostly, to the imagination. Surely this is even more disturbing? I'm thinking Alien (horror film) versus Aliens (action film). The less you describe, the more you force the reader's imagination into overdrive.

On the other hand, could the book have been too graphic? Was Tolkien writing for children, teenagers or adults? If it were in any part the first two, then graphic violence would not have been permitted in the 50s.

I think Tolkien knew how gross mediaeval warfare was, the Viking blood-eagle etc. As for Towton, the likelihood is that most people were killed when fleeing, not during the fighting, but that makes little difference really. He hints rather than describes, perhaps that is all that was possible at the time?

I must say that certain authors who depict violence most graphically seem to enjoy writing about that sort of thing a bit too much, this to me is un-attractive. The Prof had been there, seen all that and didn't (for the sake of his own and his readers' sanity) wish to dwell on it.

This doesn't seem unreasonable to me, wonder if he would have written it differently nowadays?
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Old 12-05-2008, 09:35 PM   #66
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Rumil brings up several good points, and the more one considers Tolkien's battles (I am speaking of those in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit), the more we find Tolkien eschewing direct combat sequences altogether for battles being recounted after the fact. At least two of the most important battles (to the plot, at least) are the Battle of Five Armies and the Battle before the Black Gates. In both cases, the battles are interrupted before they get heavy (in one, Bilbo is knocked unconscious, and the other Pippin is smothered beneath a troll). The actual battle scenes are described later under much more favorable circumstances.

And if anyone has spoken at length to any war vet (like my father, a WWII vet, for instance), they recall the glorious events or the fun times they had. You have to literally pry any reminiscences of horror out of them with a crowbar (if they'll reveal them at all). They don't want to talk about it unless they are forced to (and this is particularly true of WWI and WWII vets for some reason). Tolkien's reminiscences of horror (like the faces in the Dead Marsh) are subtle reminders of his personal war experiences, rather than the overt statements made by Owen, Sassoon or Erich Maria Remarque.

Tolkien's books are epics presented in a classical, nearly mythological form (the Sil more so than LotR, but nevertheless legendary elements literally appear on every page); therefore, the plot centers on the noble heroes (even Samwise the Everyman is Jack in the Beanstalk, for all intents and purposes), and the crises and eucatastophe are fairy tale in quality (a quest, a ring, the destruction of an immortal evil, etc.). Tolkien was strident, almost vehement, that LotR was not allegorical to WWI or WWII, and for good reason. It has nothing to do with real world conflicts; rather, it has everything to do with Faery and a rousing tale on the grand scale.
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Old 12-06-2008, 01:13 AM   #67
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I think Tolkien knew how gross mediaeval warfare was, the Viking blood-eagle etc. As for Towton, the likelihood is that most people were killed when fleeing, not during the fighting, but that makes little difference really. He hints rather than describes, perhaps that is all that was possible at the time?
But again, its not the detail in which the fact is described, but the acknowledgement of the fact itself. And I'm principally asking whether its acceptable to avoid mentioning it. Does Tolkien honestly depict the facts of warfare - & if so, is that ok, as he's writing a 'fantasy'.

Quote:
The Prof had been there, seen all that and didn't (for the sake of his own and his readers' sanity) wish to dwell on it.
So, he does 'sanitises' warfare? He makes it seem less brutal & ugly than it is? War is good guys vs bad guys & those who fall in battle are granted a heroic death? As I said, this avoids the need to question the morality of war - no-one in M-e would question whether it was right to fight against Sauron - hence no white feathers being handed out & no-one runs, or panics or suffers shell-shock & gets taken away & shot at dawn. There's this whole dimension of warfare which is entirely absent from Tolkien's depiction of warfare - & its the most difficult part. Did Tolkien avoid it because it wouldn't have been 'acceptable' at the time he was writing, or simply because he didn't want to have to deal with that kind of thing? Does writing fantasy excuse one avoiding unpleasant facts of reality - & if so, what value does it actually have?
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Old 12-06-2008, 02:37 AM   #68
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Yes, obviously no graphic descriptions of horrendous injuries.

No, the clues are there if you look for them

What on earth am I on about? Well, JRRT wrote when every adult knew more than they wished about the reality of war, his generation, what was left of it, served in the horror of trenches, then everyone was exposed to total war and strategic bombing in WW2. So he doesn't need to describe it all in graphic terms.

Those that know are given the cues - Sam deploring the battle of men versus men, the dead marshes, the decapitated head missiles, it is plain that there are atrocities and 'grossness' in Middle Earth warfare, but they are left, mostly, to the imagination. Surely this is even more disturbing? I'm thinking Alien (horror film) versus Aliens (action film). The less you describe, the more you force the reader's imagination into overdrive.

On the other hand, could the book have been too graphic? Was Tolkien writing for children, teenagers or adults? If it were in any part the first two, then graphic violence would not have been permitted in the 50s.
There's no need for graphic descriptions of injuries, but likewise, there was no need for Tolkien to simply gloss over the fact that Eomer, Aragorn, Legolas etc must have done things like cut the arms and legs off Orcs, put arrows in the eyes of Variags and decapitate Men of Khand. Our heroes simply disappear and a couple of pages later there is a battle won. It's interesting looking in HoME as the final product is not too much different from the notes he wrote.

That's particularly pertinent when it comes to Tolkien's writing style as he is so often accused of lingering descriptions of landscapes and so forth, and we all know he can write lingeringly and effectively of horrors, but when it comes to battles, we almost get little more than a synopsis. Especially with Pelennor. It was OK for people of Tolkien's generation to simply read a rough outline and then fill in the gaps, but to people born since 1945 and who have never served or read much about warfare then battle is just something out of a video game - filling in the gaps isn't possible.

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Originally Posted by Morthoron
And if anyone has spoken at length to any war vet (like my father, a WWII vet, for instance), they recall the glorious events or the fun times they had. You have to literally pry any reminiscences of horror out of them with a crowbar (if they'll reveal them at all). They don't want to talk about it unless they are forced to (and this is particularly true of WWI and WWII vets for some reason). Tolkien's reminiscences of horror (like the faces in the Dead Marsh) are subtle reminders of his personal war experiences, rather than the overt statements made by Owen, Sassoon or Erich Maria Remarque.
I think this goes to the heart of it. It's likely that Tolkien had no artistic reason for leaving out the details of battle at all, it's probable that he simply did not like to write about it because it was painful.

So we know that Eomer got a blood lust on him, but we don't know what atrocities he commits. We know there must have been a body count as the good guys won, but we don't know how they won beyond the kind of description of strategy you might find in a text book. And our heroes must have been brutal - can you imagine the Orcs giving any quarter? Not a bit. And so nor would our heroes have done.

It was Tolkien's perogative to do this of course, but if he was intending to portray war as bad, as something to be avoided, then did he do the right thing?
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Old 12-06-2008, 06:37 AM   #69
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Originally Posted by Lalwendë View Post
It was Tolkien's perogative to do this of course, but if he was intending to portray war as bad, as something to be avoided, then did he do the right thing?
My take on Tolkien is that he viewed war like millions of other WWI or WWII vets, it had to be done. I say WWI and WWII because those were perhaps the last two 'righteous' wars that had to be fought to rid the world of an ultimate grasping evil (any beyond those, wars get so muddied one isn't quite sure who is exactly right or wrong and which party is evil). The wars in both the Hobbit and LotR are of a defensive nature, and beyond that Tolkien is quick to point out that war of an aggressive nature is an evil, as when the Numenoreans went from benevolent teachers to cruel tyrants of Middle-earth.

That's a quick take, anyway. I'm rapidly typing this while pounding down some coffee before I leave for work. I am sure, like everything else Tolkien, there are points to the contrary I have not considered in my groggy state.

P.S. So, Lal, what I was trying to convey regarding Tolkien was that he certainly put forth the proposition that war is inherently evil and that peace is an infinitely better lifestyle; however, he also stressed attention to duty, of loyalty and self-sacrifice that was a mirror of all the young lads of the BEF and the American volunteers (and yes, all those silly French persons too) who without complaint surrendered their lives at the Somme, the Ardenne and Belleau Wood. Tolkien's view tends toward the bravery of the individuals in war (both great and small characters) and how single acts of valor instill that feeling throughout the corp, rather than the nameless and faceless masses that are mowed down as they near enemy lines, or the ones who died of gangrene in a field hospital or of wasting diahrrea in a latrine.
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Old 12-06-2008, 04:15 PM   #70
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My take on Tolkien is that he viewed war like millions of other WWI or WWII vets, it had to be done. I say WWI and WWII because those were perhaps the last two 'righteous' wars that had to be fought to rid the world of an ultimate grasping evil (any beyond those, wars get so muddied one isn't quite sure who is exactly right or wrong and which party is evil). The wars in both the Hobbit and LotR are of a defensive nature, and beyond that Tolkien is quick to point out that war of an aggressive nature is an evil, as when the Numenoreans went from benevolent teachers to cruel tyrants of Middle-earth.
Yet I always see that the War of the Ring is a 'righteous' war and one carried out to rid the world of evil, and whereas WWII is usually seen in that way too, WWI isn't, it's more often seen as a pointless war in which whole brigades were slaughtered just to advance a trench by a few yards in the mud.
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Old 12-06-2008, 08:11 PM   #71
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Yet I always see that the War of the Ring is a 'righteous' war and one carried out to rid the world of evil, and whereas WWII is usually seen in that way too, WWI isn't, it's more often seen as a pointless war in which whole brigades were slaughtered just to advance a trench by a few yards in the mud.
The European political lunacy that led up to WWI was pointless; the generals' (particularly the French generals, with the BEF in a subordinate role) reliance on the Offensive as the only strategy was pointless; the German refusal to seek a mediated settlement after realizing three months into the War that they could not win, and at best would spend years in a bloody stalemate, yet kept on blindly fighting anyway, was pointless; the Versailles Peace Treaty, a vengeful and counterproductive piece of vendetta, which virtually guaranteed a second war, was pointless.

However, the British, French, American, Australian and Canadian men (as well as countless other allied countries) who fought on the front lines did not consider that expending their lives for a few feet of precious ground was pointless. The Germans and their Austro-Hungarian allies were aggressors intent on carving up Europe (which they would eventually achieve in WWII), and they would have succeeded, to the detriment of European history, had the Guns of August not been silenced.

It was a horrible war, horribly managed. But the megalomaniacal Kaiser Wilhelm would have eventually forced a war one way or another even if Archduke Ferdinand had not been assassinated in Sarajevo. The war was an inevitably due to the belligerence and ego of one man: Wilhelm, just as 20 years later a second German fanatic would singlehandedly be the cause of over 20 million deaths.
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Old 12-07-2008, 01:31 AM   #72
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But again, its not the detail in which the fact is described, but the acknowledgement of the fact itself.
No, your issue is clearly with detail, not honesty. Tolkien acknowledges and portrays the gritty truth of war: lots of people die on both sides. That is "the fact," and anything more descriptive than that is "the detail in which the fact is described."

Even if Tolkien had written that all the warriors in those days died by disintegrating before any damage to their bodies occurred, it would still be an honest and acceptable depiction of war in Middle-earth. One could only accuse Tolkien of sanitizing warfare in this hypothesis if one imagines (irrationally) that Tolkien intended for the patently fantastic rules of an explicitly fantastic world to be transferred to the "Primary World" to illuminate certain truths. With the information Tolkien does provide, one might reasonably imagine all the severings and disembowelments one wishes. That Tolkien does not imagine them for us does not make his depiction dishonest, though it does indicate that preaching of the horrors of the battlefield was not his objective.
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Old 12-07-2008, 04:14 AM   #73
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No, your issue is clearly with detail, not honesty. Tolkien acknowledges and portrays the gritty truth of war: lots of people die on both sides. That is "the fact," and anything more descriptive than that is "the detail in which the fact is described."
My point is that one does not have to go into graphic descriptive detail, spending a paragraph describing the effect of a poleaxe blow to the face. One can simply state that 'X was hit in the face by a poleaxe' - rather than 'X was felled by a blow'. The first brings home the horror of battle in a way the second doesn't (&, btw, removes X's chance of making a profound farewell speech in the way that most men who fell in battle were denied that. They didn't get the chance to say goodbye.)
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Even if Tolkien had written that all the warriors in those days died by disintegrating before any damage to their bodies occurred, it would still be an honest and acceptable depiction of war in Middle-earth. One could only accuse Tolkien of sanitizing warfare in this hypothesis if one imagines (irrationally) that Tolkien intended for the patently fantastic rules of an explicitly fantastic world to be transferred to the "Primary World" to illuminate certain truths.
Tolkien repeatedly claimed that 'Middle-earth' was our Primary world in the ancient past. The same rules apply - a sword blow or arrow strike will have exactly the same effect on the Pelennor as it would at Crecy.

Quote:
That Tolkien does not imagine them for us does not make his depiction dishonest, though it does indicate that preaching of the horrors of the battlefield was not his objective.
Which actually creates the impression that the battlefield is not all that horrible a place - or at least not as horrible as it actually was. If rape is used as a weapon of war & a means of intimidation (as it pretty much always has been) we may not require a writer to describe the act in detail, but we would require him not to refer to it as 'making love to the women on the opposing side without their consent'.

If we look at the slaughter of Towton, or Agincourt ( soldiers screaming in pain sans limbs & innards, faces crushed & hacked open with bladed weapons, men at arms trampled & suffocating in the mud, mutilation of the dead & dying, men fleeing in terror being cut down - often by their own side, or executed later for 'cowardice', etc) are we to take it that that kind of thing didn't happen on the Pelennor against Easterlings & Southrons at the hands of Gondorians & Rohirrim , or that it happened, but Tolkien chose not to mention it? If its the latter then our whole impression of the nobility of the Men of the West is dealt a body blow. If its the former, then they were so different from men in battle in the primary world, particularly in the dark age & medieval period, then we have no real connection with them emotionally & psychologically anymore than we have with Robert E Howard's 'mighty-thewed barbarian'.

(This must be my fifth edit - but I wanted to just go back to Obloquy's statement:
Quote:
Even if Tolkien had written that all the warriors in those days died by disintegrating before any damage to their bodies occurred, it would still be an honest and acceptable depiction of war in Middle-earth.
Which goes to the heart of this thread - how much freedom does a writer of Fantasy have? Does he or she have the right to depict war, & death in battle, as a nice, clean, civilised thing or God as a senile old fake? Is it simply the case that a writer of fantasy can set down on the page whatever they can imagine, or do we have the right to request they reside within particular boundaries? It would seem to me that many more folk are offended by Pullman's employing his freedom as a writer of fantasy to depict God in the way he does than they are by Tolkien's cleaned up & sanitised battlefields.

What I've been wondering all along is why that would be the case - or is it simply that they like what Tolkien did but dislike what Pullman did - are the boundaries to be set for a Fantasy writer's freedom determined simply by personal taste or whim? Pullman is not justified because I didn't like what he did, but Tolkien is justified because I did like what he did?

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Old 12-07-2008, 05:15 AM   #74
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While the depictions of battle are sanitized in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings they are not so in The Silmarillion. I will quote a few parts from the chapter "Of The Fifth Battle".

The beginning of the battle:
Quote:
The Captain of Morgoth sent out riders with tokens of parley [...] With them they brought Gelmir, son of Guilin [...] and they had blinded him. Then the heralds of Angband showed him forth, crying: 'We have more such at home, but you must make haste if you would find them; for we shall deal with them all when we return even so.' And they hewed off Gelmir's hands and feet, and his head last, within sight of the Elves, and left him.

By ill chance, at that place in the outworks stood Gwindor of Nargothrond, the brother of Gelmir. Now his wrath was kindled to madness, and he leapt forward on horseback, and many riders with him; and they pursued the heralds and slew them, and drove on deep into the main host. And seeing this all the host of the Noldor were set on fire...
Of the fall of Fingon:
Quote:
At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood.
Of the fall of Huor:
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There, as the sun westered on the sixth day, and the shadow of Ered Wethrin grew dark, Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in his eye, and all the valiant Men of Hador were slain in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.
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Old 12-07-2008, 05:23 AM   #75
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Yes - as I acknowledged before, the Orcs behave like Orcs - they do nasty things to the good guys, but the good guys are never Orkish. The ugliness of a medieval battle rarely enters the pages of Tolkien. & when it does, it is surrounded with a golden poetic glow:

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all the valiant Men of Hador were slain in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.
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Old 12-07-2008, 05:30 AM   #76
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You might as well critique Michelango for his failure to depict the "real" human form, or Shakespeare for lying about the way people "really" talk.
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Old 12-07-2008, 06:14 AM   #77
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Yes - as I acknowledged before, the Orcs behave like Orcs - they do nasty things to the good guys, but the good guys are never Orkish. The ugliness of a medieval battle rarely enters the pages of Tolkien. & when it does, it is surrounded with a golden poetic glow:
I get your point and agree partially too (though I don't agree that an author should be criticised for being poetic). It's true that we never get any direct descriptions of the ugly deeds of the good guys but that they occur nonetheless is easy to perceive. Here's another quote from the Silmarillion regarding the Third Battle:

Quote:
...they defeated the servants of Morgoth, and pursuing them across Ard-Galen destroyed them utterly, to the least and last, within sight of Angband's gates.
They destroyed them to 'the least and last'... That must have been a brutal slaughter of the Orcs and within sight of Angband's gates too, for all their mates to watch. And don't tell me that they didn't plea for mercy towards the end, when the battle already was lost and they were routed by the vicious Noldor. Nevertheless, they were slaughtered without mercy, every single one of them. Was that really necessary?
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Old 12-07-2008, 07:49 AM   #78
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You might as well critique Michelango for his failure to depict the "real" human form, or Shakespeare for lying about the way people "really" talk.
Agreed.
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Old 12-07-2008, 08:20 AM   #79
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While the depictions of battle are sanitized in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings they are not so in The Silmarillion. I will quote a few parts from the chapter "Of The Fifth Battle".
Yes, this is maybe the oddest thing. We know Tolkien was capable of describing horrors without going OTT but also without simply glossing over them, and that included describing what happened in battles and skirmishes. He writes about them in other works, but why not in Lord of the Rings?

In fact, in Lord of the Rings, he is also perfectly capable of describing the pain Frodo felt as he was stabbed, and the fight with the Wargs in Hollin, and we even get a little (but not a lot) more description of the military action at Helm's Deep. So why, when it gets to the mother of all battles, does he skip most of it out? It's interesting comparing the actual text with the outlines in HoME because there's not too much more descriptive text added...

Actually, what might help here (I'll put my teacher head on now) is to look closely at the most significant part of the text for details of what actually happened on Pelennor, so here it is for your enjoyment:

Quote:
Hard fighting and long labour they had still; for the Southrons were bold men and grim, and fierce in despair; and the Easterlings were strong and war-hardened and asked for no quarter. And so in this place and that, by burned homestead or barn, upon hillock or mound, under war or on field, still they gathered and rallied and fought until the day wore away.

Then the Sun went at last behind Mindolluin and filled all the sky with a great burning, so that the hills and the mountains were dyed as with blood; fire glowed in the River, and the grass of the Pelennor lay red in the nightfall. And in that hour the great Battle of the field of Gondor was over; and not one living foe was left within the circuit of the Rammas. All were slain save those who fled to die, or to drown in the red foam of the River. Few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor; and to the land of the Haradrim came only a tale from far off: a rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor.

Aragorn and Eomer and Imrahil rode back towards the Gate of the City, and they were now weary beyond joy or sorrow. These three were unscathed, for such was their fortune and the skill and might of their arms, and few indeed had dared to abide them or look on their faces in the hour of their wrath. But many others were hurt or maimed or dead upon the field. The axes hewed Forlong as he fought alone and unhorsed; and both Duilin of Morthond and his brother were trampled to death when they assailed the mumakil, leading their bowmen close to shoot at the eyes of the monsters. Neither Hirluin the fair would return to Pinnath Gelin, nor Grimbold to Grimslade, nor Halbarad to the Northlands, dour-handed Ranger. No few had fallen, renowned or nameless, captain or soldier; for it was a great battle and the full count of it no tale has told. So long afterward a maker in Rohan said in his song of the Mounds of Mundburg:

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.
There Theoden fell, Thengling mighty,
to his golden halls and green pastures
in the Northern fields never returning,
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthlaf,
Dunhere and Deorwine, doughty Grimbold,
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred,
fought and fell there in a far country:
in the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.
Neither Hirluin the Fair to the hills by the sea,
nor Forlong the old to the flowering vales ever,
to Arnach, to his own country returned in triumph;
nor the tall bowmen, Derufin and Duilin, to their dark waters,
meres of Morthond under mountain-shadows.
Death in the morning and at day's ending
lords took and lowly. Long now they sleep
under grass in Gondor by the Great River.
Grey now as tears, gleaming silver,
red then it rolled, roaring water:
foam dyed with blood flamed at sunset;
as beacons mountains burned at evening;
red fell the dew in Rammas Echor.
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Old 12-07-2008, 09:11 AM   #80
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You might as well critique Michelango for his failure to depict the "real" human form, or Shakespeare for lying about the way people "really" talk.
But what we're discussing is the reality of 'medieval' warfare (setting aside the fact that a number of (minor, admittedly) Shakespearean characters do speak naturalistically) & the question remains whether a writer of fantasy has an obligation to reflect the reality of battle (among other things) honestly. Men in battle, when the adrenalin is pumping & their friends are being cut down beside them, do horrible things & death at the pointy end of an arrow or the blunt end of a battle-hammer, or with lungs full of bloody mud is horrible & not at all poetic.

So. Is the fact that Tolkien was writing a fantasy novel, set in a 'Secondary' reality, enough of an excuse for avoiding (or at least toning down) the truth - especially when there is a risk of misleading the reader into believing that such things didn't happen? Should a novel about war, whether a 'fantasy' novel or not, honestly reflect the facts about war?

Or, as Tolkien himself stated:
Quote:
Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being “arrested.” They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination. But the error or malice, engendered by disquiet and consequent dislike, is not the only cause of this confusion. Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise. To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode. (On Fairy Stories)
There is a requirement that fantasy not be used 'frivolously' or 'only half-seriously'. However 'fantastic' the world created it must be treated seriously & honestly. He further states:
Quote:
Fantasy does not blur the sharp outlines of the real world; for it depends on them.


Or does it? Should it? Should fantasy be the ultimate escape, allowing an author the freedom to do as he wishes with the raw material of the primary world, & with the products of his imagination - he can, if he wishes create a world where the sun in green, where death on a battlefield is clean & neat, or where 'God' is a senile control freak - or absolutely anything he or she wants, because 'its fantasy' & anything is permitted. But not if it 'depends on the sharp outlines of the real world' as Tolkien himself states is vital.

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