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Old 04-16-2004, 04:51 PM   #41
Novnarwen
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Eye

Quote: From Child of 7th Age's Post:
Quote:
For similar reasons, I sometimes wonder whether JRRT would ever have condoned the publication of HoMe, or at least those parts of it that deal with the actual process of writing LotR and the various drafts. Does it take away too much of the mystery by exposing the bones that lie underneath? We are obviously gaining something in knowledge, but have we lost something as well?
I do think we 'lose' something. I started the two first books in the HoMe series, but I gave up, for several reasons. Mostly because I thought it silly of me to continue reading about a world I thought perfect, which I didn't want to ruin. (Heh.) I'm not sure whether I want to seek more knowledge at this point, as I like to keep Tolkien's works mysterious, and quite frankly; I don't think I want to know everything underneath the bones, simply because I don't want everything to give meaning, because not everything does (at least I think so..), not in real life either. I do not believe Tolkien used 12 years of analyzing his own texts to the most little, but not necessarily an insignificant, detail.

Quote: From davem' post
Quote:
So, the reader is creating the imaginary landscape, & to an extent the characters. The writer gives the story, the events, & the reader provides their imaginative form. So we have a kind of 'co-creation' going on. So, the 'primary' world (or the reader's memories & experience of it) is taken up into the 'secondary' world, giving it a sense of reality, which a movie, for instance, cannot, because the personal dimension is lacking.
Hmm... I can see what you mean, Davem, but let me just tell you of my own experience..

I was so unlucky (or lucky, I don't know that yet) to see The Fellowship of the Ring before I actually read the book. So, basically, I was not able to really create the characters from the Fellowship of The Ring (book) or interpret as, maybe, you or Tolkien had in mind first, (before Peter Jackson hired Elijah Wood & Co, maybe?) However, as I was enthralled by the first book, obviously I had to read The Two Towers, (I did that before I saw the second film..) which, on the other hand, I was able to create the imaginary landscape and to an extent the 'new' characters (those who were not in the first film). Nevertheless, I was not able to completely use my imagination as I had seen so much of it on screen in advance, but certain events and characters were fully mine.

The good thing about seeing the film before you've read the book is perhaps that you don't get disappointed, because you don't know already what details the director has left out. But I realise, that most Tolkien Fanatics would, no matter what, be disappointed about the films, (correct me if I’m wrong..) since there were so many things left out. Maybe some of you would even think there were many ‘wrong’ interpretations, as you had pictured everything yourself. For my part, the first movie was quite enjoyable, as there were no interpretations which were ‘violated’.

The good thing about reading the book first, is that you can use your imagination and you are able to see Frodo and not Elijah Wood (and that horrible grin of his) whenever it says 'Frodo' in the book. I also think that you are more focused on facts, details etc. when reading the book without seeing the films, because when there is no film there is no 'easier' way to explain what you're reading, and there are no actors/actresses to interpret the characters for you, (or the events, for that matter.)

Anyway, I realise that I’m a BIT off topic, but I just wanted to point out that interpretations are individual. And as Davem said, the films cannot give you what the book(s) can. I’m a bit insecure whether I was lucky, or whether I was not.. The question I want to raise, (this is VERY off topic.. heh) is whether the film ‘ruins’ the ‘canonicity’ for the those who haven’t read the book(s) before seeing the film(s)?

Sorry if this was too off topic.

Cheers,
Nova
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Old 04-18-2004, 05:19 AM   #42
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1420! More Canon Fodder

Fordim, you may be right in saying that "nothing kills intellectual inquiry faster than terminology", but it's what could done with this terminology that interests me. I would love to see a more widespread recognition of some of the RPGs, fanfics, whacky theories and discussions that have sprung to life (or undeath) from the Barrow Downs. Wow, now I know what undead really means! Not dead, but not quite alive. That's horrible! Nassty old wights. Anyway...

Cheers, Helen/Mark 12:30 for your response to my post. It was very nicely phrased, which I appreciate. I agree with the point you made: the word "canon" should not be redefined. Especially when I consider the original context of the word, used to differentiate sacred from non-sacred texts for a religion. It should of course not be used lightly. Even when we talk of Tolkien's texts as being "canon" I suppose it is always a little tongue-in-cheek (and there's nothing wrong with poking a bit of fun at our obsessions with Middle Earth).

Canon for the major religions has all (to my pitifully limited knowledge) come from various sources. This is the most frustrating aspect of a discussion of Tolkien canon... nothing will ever be universally accepted as such unless it was published by Professor Tolkien in his lifetime. As Saucepan Man pointed out, even then some things (particularly in The Hobbit) are open for debate!

Saucepan Man also touched on an issue that doesn't appear to make a lot of sense. On this website, certain passages from Letters seem to be regarded as canon. Does this apply to the entire book? Should these personal communications by Professor Tolkien, which I doubt were intended for publication, be accepted at the same level of authenticity as his published works?

The simple answer would seem to be "yes", since they do not (as far as I am aware) contradict any published material. But to accept Letters as canon seems to take away much of the freedom of interpretation that Fordim is advocating. The Sammath Naur, for example, is no longer as ambiguous as it was when Tolkien first wrote it, since it is mentioned in detail in Letters. As I have said earlier, I don't believe that an author's latest comments must necessarily be taken as the most accurate. Isn't it possible that Tolkien's later assessment of events in his books is not entirely accurate? Wouldn't we be better off studying the significance of events in The Lord of the Rings and other works in order to uncover possibilities for their true meaning?

The conscious explanation of text by the author may not be able to completely summarise the subconscious forces that were at work when it was written. It is only through detailed analysis by the author and others that these forces are exposed. I hope that I am making some sense here; I wanted to give a reason why Letters may not be eligible as canon, and therefore how the authority of Professor Tolkien to explain his own world is somewhat limited.
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Old 04-18-2004, 07:04 AM   #43
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I see what you are saying, doug. I try not to use Tolkien's letters to prove or illustrate a point about Middle-earth unless there is no text from the Legendarium itself readily available to directly support the point. However, the letters can be regarded as 'canon', I suppose, inasmuch as whatever Tolkien clearly states in his letters will generally hold true to his intent. If we should choose to disregard the assertions he makes in his letters as non-canonical to the world of Middle-earth, we would be, to an extent, voluntarily ignoring certain truths present in his writing. It would be different if the letters were not published (as perhaps they should not have been, since they do reveal a lot of the 'bones' that Tolkien meant to keep earthed), but since they have been, it is safe to say that their assertions and revelations about Middle-earth can be taken as canon.
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Old 04-18-2004, 09:13 AM   #44
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Silmaril In defense of the Letters....

Doug,

I am comfortable with your concluding sentences that the conscious explanation by the author may not always tell the whole story and that the reader is free to speculate on the subconscious forces that may be at work in any given literary work, including the Lord of the Rings.

However, like Lord of Angmar, I question the position you take on the Letters as a way to reach that conclusion.

Quote:
On this website, certain passages from Letters seem to be regarded as canon. Does this apply to the entire book? Should these personal communications by Professor Tolkien, which I doubt were intended for publication, be accepted at the same level of authenticity as his published works?
You suggest that the Letters should be removed from the body of writings regarded as canon for several reasons: they are personal communications rather than published writings; as later assessments by the author, they may not be entirely accurate; and, they take away the freedom of the reader to interpret.

The difficult thing about Tolkien is that not all the writings regarded as canon bear equal weight or authority. This is because Tolkien himself never appears to have considered any of his major works (published or not) as definitive or final, and was constantly revising and revisiting. He seems to have viewed Middle-earth as an ongoing process rather than in terms of finished or "published" products. Accordingly, the line between published and unpublished writings is more blurred in Tolkien than in other writers. This is even more the case with the wider Legendarium than with those interpretations set out in the Letters, at least those pertaining to Lord of the Rings. Since the creation and interpretation of Middle-earth was a constantly evolving process beginning about 1917 and continuing through the remainder of the author's life, I don't think we can legitimately remove any piece of it solely for being of "late" or even "early" vintage (such as the round versus the flat earth issue). There would have to be other factors involved.

It is true that the Letters were personal comunications rather than published writings. However, at least we know they were directly from the author and represented his opinions at that particular moment in time. This is certainly not true of the Silmarillion, for example. Christopher Tolkien accepted certain manuscripts over others without really knowing what his father wanted, and even wrote chunks of certain stories himself. Including the Silmarillion in canon is far more suspect than including the Letters, at least those portions and interpretations that deal with Lord of the Rings. A large portion of HoMe and Unfinished Tales also fall in this more questionable category, since we are dealing with Christopher Tolkien's editorial hand.

As far as the Letters go, I would put more weight on those directly penned by Tolkien that deal with any of the works actually published in his life. Those letters dealing with the Silm are of less weight, since we don't know what JRRT's final preferences were in regard to publication.

By this standard, Tolkien's words on Gollum and the Ring from the Letters are indeed canon. I don't feel we can argue those words away. However many creative interpretations we may arrive at, individually or in these forums, there is only one that the author has stamped with his imprimateur. That doesn't mean we are restricted only to that in our own public discussions or private thoughts. As Bethberry suggests, the text is a living thing, capable of interpretation by the individual reader. As such, there is no need to reinterpret the term "canon" or the particular writings that make up that canon. That is a wholly separate issue.

And, in a strange way, it leads me back to the question I posed earlier on this thread. Would Tolkien even have wanted to see all the variations in HoMe actually set out in print? Should this series be considered part of canon? (I am seeing this as questionable, except perhaps for those items left out of the Appendices that Tolkien clearly wanted to publish---these do have the force of canon, I believe.)

But perhaps the question of HoMe is a separate thread....
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Old 04-18-2004, 09:51 AM   #45
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another summary for my own sanity-- not intended to stall discussion

SO... issues raised so far:

Canon:

levels of 'canonicity' for original Tolkien work:

(A) Tolkien's Original published works in his lifetime. Most agree on this.

(B) Tolkien's Original works whether published or not. Hotly debated in terms of timeline and "final word".

(C) Letters. Also hotly debated. C7A: Use to clarify author's intent when stated.

"Legendarium": Definition? and how it differs from "canon"? I'm fuzzy on this

Individual reader's interpretation upon first reading

Individual readers' application

~*~*~ enchantment ~*~*~ ... wonder, eucatastrophe, Perilous Realm.

Analysis based on research into Legendarium as a whole

Does Analysis hinder enchantment? When & why, or is degradation of enchantment by analysis also an individualised response?

Regarding historia or derived myth:
Fan fiction/ RPG which faithfully extends legendarium.
Criteria? Qualifications?
Board of judges to be appointed by... whom?
Ratified by what method?
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Old 04-18-2004, 10:11 AM   #46
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Clarification

To clarify my positing of historia -- by that I merely meant the "meaningful stories" that each reader develops in response to the 'facts' of Middle-Earth as set down in the 'primary' texts (like the Hobbit, LotR, Silmarillion etc). These works are themselves, of course, Tolkien's own historia about those facts: the decision of whether or not to accept those 'versions' as final or absolute rests with the individual. For those who wish to "accept" Tolkien's historia I would suggest that the Letters could very well be 'canonical'; for those of us, such as myself, who prefer to develop our own historia, the Letters are extraordinarily useful.

This definition would, I realise, exclude things like fanfiction and rpgs, insofar as they 'make up' or add 'new facts' to the annals of Middle-Earth. Perhaps the best way to regard fanfic and rpgs is as 'historical fiction' -- containing historical truths about Middle-Earth (ie moral vision) without being historically accurate.

But a note on the word 'canon' now -- I think we are working through something of a shibboleth. A canon is not a group of set or finalised texts: every canon is always in motion, being changed, being reinterpreted, etc. Even the Biblical canon was arrived at in historical time (at the Council of Nicacea) and continues to be reworked to this day (some Bibles have the apocrypha in a separate section, some do not). The 'canon' of American literature didn't use to include writers like Mark Twain (too childish) or Toni Morrison (too black): but as American society changed, so did the canon, and now just try finding any course or program in American Lit anywhere in the world that doesn't include both these writers.

I think the attempt here to determine a final set of 'canonical' texts for Middle-Earth is doomed to failure (as is becoming perfectly clear). I think the list of canon provided by Mark 12:30 above is about as close as we're going to get. The real issue is, I think, what is it do we want to accmplish by the act of making some texts 'canonical' and others not. To recover the initial sense of canonisation: it means to set something aside a sacred. Two questions:

1) by what definition of "sacred" can we set aside anything Tolkien wrote? (He would have considered such an act to be blasphemy, I'm sure!)

2) What do we gain by doing this anyway?

My position, in brief: the search for the 'canon' of Middle-Earth is futile at best, misleading at worst, for it maintains the fiction of an authorially established 'truth' when what we should be doing is looking at all available texts and evaluating, thinking about and arguing about each of them on their own merits (as well as how they relate to one another) without worrying about if they do or do not 'fit' into some idealised (and wholly imaginary) Canon of Truth (which will only ever really be the truth-as-imagined-by-the-person-putting-forward-the-canon).

*Fordim ducks heavy objects slung his way*

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Old 04-18-2004, 11:54 AM   #47
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Tolkien Boy oh boy, this thread is fascinating

A few thoughts on some of the points raised:


Quote:
Saucepan Man also touched on an issue that doesn't appear to make a lot of sense. On this website, certain passages from Letters seem to be regarded as canon.
In discussing what I labelled as Tolkien's "secondary sources", I was conscious of the fact that a distinction might need to be made between the Letters on the one hand and the texts set out in Unfinished Tales and the HoME series on the other. The unpublished texts comprise ideas that Tolkien himself chose to include within the "history" of Middle-earth (the Legendarium?), whereas the Letters (in so far as they deal with his writings on Middle-earth, whether published or not) generally comprise ideas set out in response to specific questions raised in relation to those writings. The texts were unpublished in his lifetime, even though he intended and indeed desired that some of them at least should be published, but he also developed and re-worked them during his lifetime. The Letters were not intended for general public consumption, but were "published" in the sense of being communicated to each individual recipient (although many of the letters are themselves drafts). Do any of these factors mean that the Letters and the "unpublished" texts should be treated differently in deciding what is "canon" and what is not?


Quote:
It is true that the Letters were personal comunications rather than published writings. However, at least we know they were directly from the author and represented his opinions at that particular moment in time.
Which is true of the "unpublished" texts also. But you make an excellent point here, Sharon, in distinguishing the Letters from the Silmarillion on the basis that the Silmarillion was heavily influenced by Christopher Tolkien's editorial hand. Does this mean that Tolkien's views on the matters covered in the Silm as set out in his Letters should take precedence over those within the Silm itself where they are inconsistent, even though the Silm was published as a "complete" text (albeit subject to Christopher's caveats in the Foreword)? Does this apply to inconsistencies between the published Silm and the "unpublished" texts in the Unfinished Tales and the HoME series? At least with the "unpublished texts", Christopher leaves them intact and restricts his editorial role to identifying differences between the various texts and pointing out how they developed over time.

As regards the Letters, is there any merit in according greater value (in terms of identifying Tolkien's intentions at the time of writing) to those written during and shortly after the creative process, rather than those written later in his life? I think that there is in so far as the Hobbit and LotR are concerned, since he in effect "froze" these texts in time by assenting to their publication. The question is perhaps more difficult with regard to the Silm material, since Tolkien's ideas developed, as has been pointed out, over some 60 years and were never, at least by the author's own hand, "frozen" in the same way, even though he himself clearly intended and desired that this should occur. Indeed, had Tolkien had his own way with his publishers, the Silm would have been published before LotR, in which case it would have taken the form, by and large, that it was in at that time.

Then there is the question of the change made by Tolkien himself to Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the Hobbit. I am aware that he was reluctant to make any changes to published texts, except where absolutely necessary. But this does nevertheless leave open the possibility that he would have felt it necessary to change aspects of LotR, had he got round to publishing the Silm. Unlikely, perhaps, but within the bounds of possibility all the same.


Quote:
My position, in brief: the search for the 'canon' of Middle-Earth is futile at best, misleading at worst, for it maintains the fiction of an authorially established 'truth' when what we should be doing is looking at all available texts and evaluating, thinking about and arguing about each of them on their own merits (as well as how they relate to one another) without worrying about if they do or do not 'fit' into some idealised (and wholly imaginary) Canon of Truth (which will only ever really be the truth-as-imagined-by-the-person-putting-forward-the-canon).
A very appealing approach, Fordim, not least because it would seem to "do away" with the kind of difficult questions raised above and in other posts concerning whether certain "unpublished" ideas should take precedence over others. Certainly, as I think we all agree, each individual has complete freedom to accept or reject these "unpublished" ideas (and indeed, as I have suggested, some of the events and ideas in the "published" texts) on the basis of his or her own personal preferences. But when it comes to discussion with others, even on individual issues, won't questions of this type inevitably be raised? One person may assign greater importance to the "unpublished texts" whereas another may prefer what was said by Tolkien in one of his Letters. Without "rules" as to which should assume greater importance in determining the "truth" of a particular issue, the discussion will simply reach a stalemate since neither "side" will be obliged to accept the other's viewpoint. That may not be such a bad thing where the purpose of a discussion is simply to exchange ideas and perhaps learn from the views of others. But it will not help in determining Tolkien's own "historia". I suppose it comes down to what the purpose of a particular discussion is and what each individual participant wants to get out of it.

Finally, I am very much taken by davem's idea of "enchantment", and I think that is something that we (as Tolkien enthusiasts) must have all felt when we read the Hobbit and LotR for the first time. Had we not experienced the magic of Middle-earth in this way, then I doubt that we would now be spending time on a Tolkien-based forum such as this one. For some, the enchantment of these books is sufficient and they feel no need to read more widely about Tolkien's ideas on Middle-earth. For others (and here I would include myself and, most probably, the majority if not all of those participating in this discussion), it is this very enchantment which feeds a desire to learn more about Tolkien's "historia".

I can still vividly recall the enchantment which I felt on first reading the Hobbit and LotR some 25 years ago. I was presented with a magical world in which I could immerse myself and a story which I could enjoy for its own sake. I was not interested in themes, or how it might be applicable to me (apart from providing a few hours of enchantment every night) or even why it was that Gollum fell into Mount Doom with the Ring. That enchantment has faded with subsequent readings, possibly as I have grown older, although it still remains part of my experience and perhaps it still drives the interest which I have in Tolkien's works. But, then again, I have discovered new wonders, such an appreciation of the immense world that Tolkien created, an interest in how his ideas developed and how they tie in with the "human experience", an appreciation of the themes underlying the events and characters portrayed and how these might be applicable to my own life, and, yes, a curiosity concerning Tolkien's own "historia", leading me to be genuinely interested into questions such as the nature and origins of Orcs and the forces at work underlying the events which occured at Sammath Naur.

So, to answer your questions, Helen:


Quote:
Does Analysis hinder enchantment? When & why, or is degradation of enchantment by analysis also an individualised response?
No, I don't think that analysis does hinder enchantment. I see it as a development of the initial enchantment we all experience when first reading the stories. A different kind of enchantment, perhaps, but enchantment all the same. And yes, analysis is an individual response to Tolkien's works. It is something that only a minority of those who read Tolkien's works will be interested in undertaking. But I do not see it as a degradation of enchantment, rather a development of it.
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Old 04-18-2004, 12:00 PM   #48
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If we limit ourselves only to what could be called 'canonical' as far as Middle Earth is concerned,(& take 'canonical' to mean an 'officially accepted' version of the stories - as in the biblical example) we are still on difficult ground, due to Tolkien's changing intentions. Either everything he wrote should be considered to have equal value, including his own interpretations of his writings, or we should simply take what 'speaks' to us personally. There is no way to agree upon any definitive version of many of the stories, & to include completely contradictory versions of stories as both being 'canonical' is to say that everything he wrote regarding ME is 'canonical'. But we don't have 'everything' he wrote. And if he rejected something which has been published susequently, shall we accept it as 'canonical', because he wrote it, or reject it because he had decided against it?. If a final note turned up from him saying 'I reject everything I wrote after the Lost Tales' would everything he published about ME suddenly cease to be canonical?

Letters

First, we only have the letters Christopher Tolkien permitted to be published. These apparently are the ones relating to the Legendarium, but we don't know what the other's contain (we don't have his diaries, either)

Second, we don't have the letters he was replying to, so we have no sense of 'context'. We don't even know to what extent he was making up the 'facts' about ME contained in the letters as he went. Picking & choosing which parts of the Letters to accept could be extended.

So, taking HoME as an example, & looking at the evolution of ideas, changes in characters & storyline, especially as regards the development of LotR (Trotter, Giant Treebeard, Theoden's daughter, etc), we can certainly ask whether, if he knew that the letters would be published, he wouldn't have amended them, or even not written them.

He clearly was not writing them as part of a 'canon' - which is the point. Tolkien probably wouldn't have thought of some (any?) of his writings as 'canonical' & others as not. I would say that he wouldn't consider any of the letters in that way. We can't even know if he was being serious in all of them.

Second, on some level everything he wrote can be linked into the Legendarium, so, do we, for instance, include Roverandom?

Quote: (note 73)
"The earliest text has:'It was the whale who took them to the Bay of Fairyland beyond the Magic Isles, & they saw far off in the West the Shores of Fairyland, & the Mountains of the Last Land & the light of fairyland upon the waves.' In Tolkien's mythology the Shadowy Seas & the Magic Isles hide & guard Aman (Elvenhome, & the home of the Valar or Gods) from the rest of the world. A good illustration of this geography, from the 1930's, is in Tolkien's Ambakanta."

So, is Roverandom part of the ME 'canon'? Well, it makes use of the mythology in the same way the Hobbit did - which was not ''canon' when it was first written. The Hobbit only became part of the 'canon' when Tolkien decided to tie its sequel to the Silmarillion. Are the poems 'Kortirion among the Trees' & 'Habbanan beneath the Stars' to be included? Kortirion is related to the early mythology, but not to its later form. 'Habbanan' is included in the Qenya Lexicon ('a region on the borders of Valinor'). Yet this poem 'was peopled by the figures of men' ('Tolkien & the Great War'). Incidentally, the Qenya Lexicon contains words for 'saint', 'monastery'', 'crucifixion', 'nun', 'gospel' & 'Christian Mmsssionary'. It also gives the qenya words for many of the things tolkien would have experienced in the trenches - 'londa - to boom, bang, 'qonda' - choking smoke, 'pusulpe' - gas bag, balloon. the quenya name for Germany is Kalimbarie, or 'barbarity' & Kalimbardi is glossed 'the Germans'. Hence, the Gnomes thought the Germans of WW1 were barbarians. They also knew enough about Catholicism to have translated not only some Catholic terms into their own language, but even produced the aphorism:perilme metto aimaktur perperienta (or 'We indeed endure things but the Martyrs endured & to the End'). (All examples from T&TGW by John Garth)

So, is the Qenya Lexicon 'canon' or not, or are only parts of it 'canonical'? What about 'You & Me & the Cottage of Lost Play' - must be 'canonical' if the Lost Tales are. Or how about 'Goblin Feet', which Tolkien came to loathe - yet are the fairies depicted in it so different from the Elves we first meet at Rivendell in Hobbit ('How delicious, my dear!'). Are those Elves 'canonical', or shall we exclude them? Which of the versions of Riddles in the Dark shall we keep?

Obviously, we have to make a clear distinction between what Tolkien himself produced (to the extent that we can separate it from Christopher's contributions), but once we start trying to pigeonhole certain of Tolkien's writings as 'canonical' & other writings as not, we will not find any clear demarcation lines to help us, because Tolkien didn't think about his writings in that way. He was writing at different times, in different circumstances, with different aims. He began wanting to give England its own Mythology, he ended having created a 'secondary' world, which no-one, including Tolkien himself thought of as being anything of the sort. If anything, it became in the end, as Christopher Tolkien said, a depository for some of his profoundest thoughts (sorry, don't have the exact wording of that quote to hand). But it was an evolving thing, a process, in which he was attempting to actualise, give form to, something like his own equivalent of 'Music of the Ainur'.

So, I side with those who feel 'uncomfortable' with the whole idea of a Tolkien 'canon'. As CS Lewis said, its like 'chasing a fox that isn't there'.

Unless that particular 'fox' is Tolkien himself

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Old 04-18-2004, 12:38 PM   #49
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Silmaril Chasing the 'Tolkien fox'

Fordim, Davem and others,

Unlike several of you, I do indeed think it is worthwhile to "chase the Tolkien fox", as Davem so cleverly put it....

I agree that this thread should focus on something other than a definition of canon. I also concur we should be "looking at all available texts and evaluating, thinking about and arguing about each of them on their own merits (as well as how they relate to one another).." Just as Fordim and Bethberry have suggested, the whole exercise becomes dead and pedantic unless we grapple with the living text.

What I find harder to accept is Fordim's suggestion that, under any circumstances, discussing canon -- the attempt to define the body of writings that most closely represent Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth -- is "futile at best, misleading at worst". Those are strong words! We're not talking about relative merit which I will freely concede, but essentially saying the task is without any merit.

This represents a more extreme position than I'm willing to adopt. Before we charge forward with our individual interpretations, don't we need to try and puzzle out what Tolkien regarded as the heart of Middle-earth? If parts of the Silmarillion are more representative of Christopher than his father, I would like to be aware of that.

Discussions of canon are admittedly just one tiny piece of a much larger picture. And I don't believe the end product of such discussions should be a single list set in granite or a series of will-of-the wisps based on nothing more than "truth-as-imagined-by-the-person-putting-forward-the-canon".

Frankly, I'm not interested in anyone's final list. I'm more interested in the process which they went through to create that list: what criteria were used, whether they measured entire texts or particular tales, what goals they had in mind, how they dealt with thorny issues like chronology. A recent essay by Steuard Jenson makes an attempt to do this by defining at least some common assumptions and goals from which we may proceed, while still allowing for personal variations. See here.

The minute you go beyond The Hobbit and LotR (even sometimes when going back and forth between the two!), you are struck by the many ambiguities and seeming contradictions that exist in such works at HoMe, UT, Tom Bombadil, and the Road Goes Ever On. Many readers feel no need to sort out the relationship of these different variants. They simply want to enjoy and understand Tolkien's process of creation in and of itself, and that is a totally legitimate stance.

Yet others are curious about the relationship and nature of these texts, especially since we often have an editorial hand involved. Since Middle-earth feels "real", at least in the sense of sub-creation, it seems natural to want to sort out some of the ambiguities as best we can. I agree that what we can do is limited. Since JRRT's world was never "completed", any discussions of canon or the weight assigned to different texts or stories can only be partially realized. But I think it's a worthwhile effort, at least on the part of those who are interested.

Canon can only be a beginning or springboard for any discussions. And I will readily admit there are many situations where we're better off disregarding it entirely. Yet I can not agree that considerations of canon are always futile or misleading. I would similarly maintain that searching for the author's intent in a given passage or work is not inherently "boring" as Fordim suggested earlier in the thread.

It is certainly a productive thing to search inside our own heads and come up with interesting interpretations that ring "true" to Middle-earth. But is it not also worthwhile to try to get a glimpse of what was in the author's mind, perhaps not so much in terms of some fixed end product but in understanding an evolving process, especially since Tollkien had such a wonderfully creative soul?

Sharon, the curmudgeon

P.S. Has anyone here ever been to Marquette and seen Tolkien's papers, or at least a catalog of what is supposed to be there? Are these strictly drafts of already published writings, or are any of the things that Davem obliquely referred to included in this collection?
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Old 04-18-2004, 03:49 PM   #50
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as is often the case (in my opinion) of deep thinking authors...
they write in such a way so as to provide many ways of interpretation,
while simaltaneously keeping a particular interpretation dear (because
it relates to a part of their own life) but with no prejudice against
the other interpretations (unless those interpretations go strongly against
the moral values the author puts into his writing [such interpretations
would go against the author's integrity]).

This interpretation which is held dear would be the one the author would
provide if asked (he might not know all or any of the others, only allowed
for them in the style of writing) and thus no interpretation is more
incorrect than another (even of the authors). However if the interpretation
is given in a publication by the author the author's intentions might
be that that interpretation be taken rather than the others (but only
as a suggestion to build the legend the author has in mind)

fact must be taken as fact (where there are 2 contradictory facts, we can
choose based on our feelings or other suggestions in the authors writings)

um, if that makes sense then i'm not too tired to be attempting this
(as i might possibly be) (just spen about 2 hours reading this post)

ps. i see that my veiws are not unique, i just thought i'd state them in
a sumarized form of that which appears in the posts above
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Old 04-18-2004, 05:36 PM   #51
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Pipe Further musings from a "fact fiend"

Welcome to the Downs, eLRic. Great first post, particularly given that this is (in my opinion) turning out to be one of the most complex (and engrossing) discussions on the forum in recent times.

I largely agree with what you say, although I would come back to the question that I raised a post or two ago: what is fact and what is interpretation when we are talking about Tolkien's Letters and the texts which were not published in his lifetime?

And I don't think that we are bound to accept as the "truth" those premises which can correctly be categorised as "fact" within those materials. They will be greatly influential, and often decisive, when deciding what is "canon" or "Tolkien's historia" (as Fordim puts it). But the reader is free to accept or reject them when he or she is interpreting the primary texts from an individual persepctive. And of course, as I have said previously, most readers will be unaware of such "facts" when they first encounter the primary texts.

As for the contrasting views presented by Fordim and Sharon:


Quote:
the search for the 'canon' of Middle-Earth is futile at best, misleading at worst
and


Quote:
Before we charge forward with our individual interpretations, don't we need to try and puzzle out what Tolkien regarded as the heart of Middle-earth?
I would (in typical fashion ) say both yes and no to each proposition. There is, from an individual perspective, surely no "right" or "wrong" way of approaching Tolkien's works. It will depend upon what the individual wants to get out of them. Some may be content with the primary texts and look no further. Others may wish to bring their own interpretations to bear and may therefore regard any attempt to establish Tolkien's "canon" as futile (for them). Yet others may see great value in trying to assess what the author's intentions were, either as a finsihing point or (as Sharon put it) as a springboard for further contemplation (internal) and/or discussion (external).

But, when it comes to interacting with others, then we must bear in mind that each person will have their own perspective. We all bring our individual perspectives to the discussions in which we participate, and we will clearly choose to participate in those discussions which best accord with our perspectives. For example, since I am (professionally) most comfortable with assessing facts and applying "rules" to those facts, I tend to participate most frequently in discussions which seek establish the "facts" of Middle-earth from the writings of Tolkien to which we have access. I am less comfortable participating in those discussions concerning the application of the ideas and themes prevalent in Tolkien's works to the individual, since I find it more difficult to articulate my views in this regard (although I still read such discussions and find them of great interest). Others, such as davem, Helen, Sharon and Lyta Underhill are much more adept in this regard, and are able to offer extremely valuable insights as a result. Similarly, someone like Bêthberry is able to bring her impressive literary knowledge to bear, which is incredibly useful in discussions such as this, or discussions of the literary and mythological bases for Tolkien's works.

Which is not to say that people should avoid any particular discussion. Different perspectives and experiences will be of great value in many discussions, provided that we recognise that others will be looking at matters from a different angle to us and that they may be seeking to get something different out of a discussion. And it is important too to acknowledge that, in consequence, there are certain discussions in which our own perspective may be (at best) irrelevant or (at worst) counter-productive. So, for example, where someone has started a thread asking a particular "factual" question about the Legendarium, it is of little value expounding one's personal interpretation where this runs counter to what Tolkien has said in his writings. If, on the other hand, the thread seeks personal views on an aspect of Tolkien's writings (the circumstances underlying Frodo's "choice" at Sammath Naur, for example), then individual perspectives may be of great value, even if they contrast with Tolkien's own views.

So, in many discussions there will be room both for an analysis of what is "canon" and for individual interpretations. In others, only one of these approaches may be called for, or perhaps a different approach altogether will be required (there is little call for either, for example, in many Middle-earth Mirth threads ).

In summary, the freedom of the reader is boundless, but, on an external level, it may on occasion be circumscribed by the circumstances in which he or she is interacting with others.
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Old 04-18-2004, 06:25 PM   #52
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ver, very good point! i can actually understand your point . you have made it perfect, clear-cut and too the point. good job. but, when you talk about tolkien it is a paradox. because you can say two things, such as Tolkien himself, " Tolkien was different from other writers because of his tremendous steps in the process of writing a good fantacy novel that seem to have paved the path for all of us." compared to the other side of the paradox, " Why did Frodo sail to the undying lands? was is in relation to the same situation of the world war I veterians?"

As you can see, it is quiet confusing. The topic of tolkien or his works is a paradox or topic that cannot be defined by fixed ideas. you can get many different answers. i take Frodo's advice, " Never ask the council of elves, for they will tell you both yes and no." if you understand what i have talked about above, you can idetify "elves" and "yes and no". The quote relates tremediously with the whole tolkien paradox entirely.
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Old 04-18-2004, 06:50 PM   #53
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Quote:
In summary, the freedom of the reader is boundless, but, on an external level, it may on occasion be circumscribed by the circumstances in which he or she is interacting with others.
As has so often been the case, Saucepan Man, you have described more eloquently and accurately what I have tried to say. Earlier in the post, I wrote:
Quote:
The Tolkien enthusiast as a reader, I believe, should err on the side of his/her own personal enjoyment of the experience of reading Tolkien's works. The Tolkien enthusiast as a discusser, however, should not be obliged to use his/her own theories about unresolved Middle-earth issues as anything more than theories - however well-educated on the subject the theorists might be.
The Ka, I am not following you.
Quote:
" Tolkien was different from other writers because of his tremendous steps in the process of writing a good fantacy novel that seem to have paved the path for all of us." compared to the other side of the paradox, " Why did Frodo sail to the undying lands? was is in relation to the same situation of the world war I veterians?"
I do not see any paradox in these two statements, as they seem to be somewhat unrelated to each other; one deals with Tolkien's contributions as an author and the other deals with the applicability of a situation within his writing. Could you explain?
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Old 04-18-2004, 07:03 PM   #54
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Quote:
you have made it perfect, clear-cut and too the point
I did? How very out of character.


Quote:
Saucepan Man, you have described more eloquently and accurately what I have tried to say
What a polite way of describing plagiarism (unconscious, I might add).
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Old 04-18-2004, 09:30 PM   #55
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In summary, the freedom of the reader is boundless, but, on an external level, it may on occasion be circumscribed by the circumstances in which he or she is interacting with others.
Hmmmm. . .this raises an interesting question, Saucepan Man. If the "freedom of the reader is boundless" then does this mean that there is no such thing as a wrong or incorrect interpretation? I'm not talking about the questions of 'fact' (whether those facts are resolvable -- when did Gollum find the Ring? -- or not -- did balrogs have wings?); I'm talking about questions of meaning.

For example: what about the people out there who interpret LotR as a fascist novel? Or, what about people -- who do exist, sadly -- who interpret the novel as supporting white supremacy? What if I want to interpret the novel as an allegory about the rise of Communism (Sauron) in the early 20th century and the reprisal against that by bourgeouis, middle-class humanism (hobbits) and the remnants of a European aristrocratic society (Gondor)?

The only recourse that you seem to be leaving open to combat these interpretations Saucepan Man is that they may be "circumscribed by the circumstances in which he or she is interacting with others." I'm not entirely clear on where you are going with this, but it would seem to suggest that if we are to combat the above examples (and we should -- they are wrong) we can do so only by attacking the interpretative positions that generate them (fascism, racism, simple-mindedness). Is there no way we can go to the text, to point to Tolkien's writings and use those as actual proof that such interpretations are incorrect, insofar as they contradict what is found on the page?

And so, does this not mean that we must maintain some sense of the texts (and the authorial reflections upon the text) as authoritative?

And just for those who might have missed it, I am now taking a position to the contrary of what I've been taking all along -- this is not, however, a flip-flop: I just feel that the answer to approaching any text -- but raised to a problematic level of almost cosmit proportions in Tolkien -- is a constant process of movement and negotiation between the freedom of the reader (which must be maintained if we are to make the text our own and not be slaves to, "What does Tolkien says it meant?") and the authority of the text/author (which must be acknowledged if we are to prevent the slide into the absolute relativism "It can mean whatever you want").

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Old 04-19-2004, 04:54 AM   #56
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The question is, if we are talking about the intentions of Tolkien (which would mean allegory) or of the applicability of the text itself.
Tolkien himself stated that he did not put any allegorical meaning into his writings. So if anybody say, that he has written the text to support white supremacy (only as an example of many), we can and must clearly argue against that with what we know about Tolkien and his own interpretations of the text as given in the Letters.
But if it is argued that the text can be used interpreted in a way that it does support white supremacy, the only way to argue against that is to analyse the text itself and the way it is interpreted.
By the way: I don't think that "attacking the interpretative positions" will work at all. People how interpret texts like you listed in your post Fordim, do normally not like arguing at all. And they will clearly not allow you to attack their general believe. If arguments against those interpretations cannot be found in the published believes of the author, (as could be case if they deny he was faithful to the believes showing truth in his writings we asked openly) they must be searched in the failures of the argumentation of the text. That process might not ever be successful, but it will often falsify the "wrong" interpretations by statements in text under discussion.

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Old 04-19-2004, 06:51 AM   #57
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Sharon: I love the 'sliding scale ' idea. Anyone else interested in returning to one of the old canon threads to discuss that?

More on the Wild Theories Theme. Negative/ dissenting forms of "Reader's Interpretation" do seem to keep popping up: Everything from "Tolkien was a White Supremacist" to "Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant" to "Tolkien looked down on women." Often these threads fizzle with some form of, "Tolkien's letters say (Letters, number xyz...) So while you have a right to your opinion/ interpretation, don't label it Tolkien's original stance without doing your research...."

While the 'dissident' can rarely be persuaded, the grief for me is that other readers are often disheartened by these statements about an author they have come to trust and now feel that they must doubt. Did Tolkien *really* hate women? Did he *really* believe in White Supremacy? In those cases the Letters can be very reassuring indeed.
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Old 04-19-2004, 07:50 AM   #58
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Quote:
If the "freedom of the reader is boundless" then does this mean that there is no such thing as a wrong or incorrect interpretation?
Of course there isn't, as far as an individual's personal thoughts are concerned. The reader is free to think what he or she chooses. Any other analysis would come close to conjuring up the "thought police" of 1984.

But, as I said, where the individual interacts with others (for example by entering a discussion or publishing his or her views), then that individual's freedom may be circumscribed by the circumstances of the interaction. Such circumscription might be legal, by application of laws such as those relating to defamation or race relations (for example, it recently became a criminal offence in the UK to incite others to racial hatred). Or it might be by means of censorship, editorial discretion, self-selection or even simply social pressure.


Quote:
what about people -- who do exist, sadly -- who interpret the novel as supporting white supremacy?
I am unfortunately aware of the "white supremacy" issue (there is a thread concerning a site devoted to this view somewhere around here). To answer you, these people are free to think what they want and, subject to the legal issues that I mention above, they are free to disseminate their views to others. Indeed, it appears that they set the agenda on their own site and censor any posts which do not accord with their views (as Findegil said, they don't want to have to deal with dissenting opinions). Thus, the freedom of those who seek to point out the fallacies in the white supremacists' interpretation is, in these circumstances, circumscribed by censorship/editorial discretion.

If, on the other hand, these people were to try to make the "white supremacist" argument on this forum, I would expect a flurry of well-argued points refuting their position by reference to Tolkien's writings (both published and unpublished). They choose not to do so because they don't want to hold themselves up to ridicule in this way (self-selection/social pressure). In other situations, the dissemination of their views may well be restricted by means of censorship or editorial discretion. So, in effect their freedom to argue for their interpretation will also be circumscribed in certain circumstances.


Quote:
What if I want to interpret the novel as an allegory about the rise of Communism (Sauron) in the early 20th century and the reprisal against that by bourgeouis, middle-class humanism (hobbits) and the remnants of a European aristrocratic society (Gondor)?
Again, you are free to think this. And you are free to make your interpretation known to others. You would have to accept that Tolkien did not intend this allegory, since he made clear that his novels were not intentionally allegorical. But, as a personal interpretation, it may still be of interest and/or value to others.
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:25 AM   #59
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Boots Is there a text in this discussion?

This is, indeed, a quintessential dilemma, of how to account for mistaken or misguided readings which seem so 'wrong' to us and yet how not to fall into the "deus ex machina" as doug platypus so humorously phrased it, of quoting chapter and verse of the Letters, unexamined for any of the issues of reliability which hamper letters of all writers. And I particularly like the way Mr. Hedgethistle has droitly picked up the distaff side in order to help us consider all the angles. Do you do this for a living, sir? A lawyer or some such shark? (Looks over shoulder worrying about Mith.)

One answer, of course, is to ask readers to be self-aware, reflective readers, conscious of their own desires, willful expectations, and particular points of view which they bring to bear, consciously and unconsciously, upon the text, and of the cultural, social and polical matrix which informs them as readers. This, to me, is part of the process of learning to read, not simply the letters on the page, but becoming aware of how we conspire to create the text and what we learn about ourselves in the process. Inexperienced or naive readings will always give way, in a discussion forum as in a classroom or a reading club, to greater understanding and appreciation. And sometimes, too, "wrong" readings will, willynilly, end up becoming the ocassion for much greater understanding.

The point remains, I suppose, on whether one wants to give up the idea of an absolute, unchanging meaning for a text or whether one wants to understand literatue as an activity. It's how you make the journey that matters as much as the getting there, isn't it? (And while I make that claim, perhaps I should ask Mr. Hedgethistle why he has conjoined author and text in his dichotomy. To me, the text is separate from the author--and, indeed it is the text which "holds supremacy", for both author and reader, although that text is an ephemeral thing.)

Take, for example, a discussion some of us had back a year or so ago, on the question of the English mythology impetus behind LOTR. This discussion was brought back to mind now by Helen's most recent post. Helen characterised as a "Wild Theme" the statement, "Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant." The discussion was mainly between Child and Rimbaud, with Rimbaud suggesting that the relationship between Sam and Frodo was slightly or barely above the level of parody of the master servant relationship. Rimbaud is far more acutely aware of the English social class structure--which still to this day informs English society--than any of we North Americans, even those who have visited England for some time. To think of how that historical situation is mediated in the text of LOTR is, to me, fascinating, particularly as Sam is the one who is left Mayor of The Shire. That a reader could so little understand English class structure as to ask that kind of question seems to me to provide a perfect example of the benefit of asking such "wild themes."

To those readers who are made uncomfortable by such questions as Rimbaud's point or that concerning Tolkien's depiction of women or even Tolkien's depiction of evil and Saruman, I would echo Sharkey's point early on in this thread:

Quote:
If a reader refuses to acknowledge certain parts of a work of fiction (or actual fact, for that matter), there's nothing I can do about it, but that person's position in a discussion forum is difficult to say the least. Conversely, I doubt someone with a clear idea of his own which one is unwilling to give up would ask such a question anyway.
Hmm. And I haven't got around to Child's post yesterday.
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:41 AM   #60
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Quote:
Helen's most recent post. Helen characterised as a "Wild Theme" the statement, "Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant." The discussion was mainly between Child and Rimbaud, with Rimbaud suggesting that the relationship between Sam and Frodo was slightly or barely above the level of parody of the master servant relationship.
Rimbaud's and Child's discussion had not entered my mind. I was referring to numerous discussions by those quite new to the books, who thought that it was shocking how condescendingly Sam was treated by Frodo.

I do not view Child's or Rimbaud's discussions or viewpoints as Wild Themes.

(That is, outside of Master Rimbaud's work in Entish Bow.)
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:58 AM   #61
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Boots How things generate ideas

Ah, but Helen, I do not in fact say you were referring to Child's and Rimbaud's discussion. I said "it brings to mind". Let me clarify my purpose, for I certainly was not trying to mischaracterise your position and if I have given that impression, I am sorry.

I was using your statement as an example of how something triggers an idea, an idea which can then go on to find some elaboration or relevance. It was my way of demonstrating that even misreadings can be fruitful. I meant that the statement "Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant" could in fact represent a way in which the very 'error' of the statement leads to a greater understanding of ideas in the text. Even a naive or newbie statement can open up discussion.

That's why, to me, there are no "Wild Themes" or points which should not be discussed. Some, like Balrog Drool Threads, can be dispatched with wit and humour but they need not be censored.
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Old 04-19-2004, 09:13 AM   #62
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Even a naive or newbie statement can open up discussion.
Certainly. And I'm not trying to hinder discussion. The point I'm trying to make is that when Tolkien's intent is called into question, the letters are a handy thing to have. Even if you consider his opinions and admissions about his own works unreliable, his letters are still a window into his heart, as are his published works.
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Old 04-19-2004, 09:24 AM   #63
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The question of Canon is a common concern that we have to deal with in the Revised Silmarillion Project.
I have seen many good ideas in this thread but unfortunately, it really doesn't help a casual reader to regard the validity of each text, typescprit, manuscript, published text, letters, etc.

We have developed some practical rules that guide us in our work. I thought that I would post some of them in here:

1. The first priority is always given to the latest editions of works published during Tolkien's lifetime.

2. Secondary priority is given to the latest ideas found among Tolkien's unpublished texts and letters, except where they:
a. violate the published canon without specifically correcting an error or
b. are proposed changes that do not clearly indicate the exact details that must be changed and how they are to be changed.

5. Information in sources of lower level priority is to be preferred over information in sources of higher level priority where the item of information in source of higher level priority can be reasonably demonstrated to be an error, whether a "slip of the pen" or from inadequate checking of previous writing.
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Old 04-19-2004, 10:46 AM   #64
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(And while I make that claim, perhaps I should ask Mr. Hedgethistle why he has conjoined author and text in his dichotomy. To me, the text is separate from the author--and, indeed it is the text which "holds supremacy", for both author and reader, although that text is an ephemeral thing.)
Bless you Bêthberry! You have asked the magic question that has finally unlocked for me the nagging thoughts that led to my initiating this thread in the first place. Yes, 999 times out of a thousand I would agree (and defend with great vitriol and vigour) the absolute ‘divorce’ of author from text necessitated by the centrality of the text (you note, I do not go so far as do Foucault and Barthes – and, I rather suspect, yourself?). But Tolkien is that one in a thousand insofar as his texts exist in a context that is of the author’s (sub)creation, thus forcing me ‘back’ to the author, even as I wish to retain my absolute freedom as a reader.

For example: when I’m reading a novel by Evelyn Waugh, I do not have to make any reference to Waugh “directly” to be aware of the context in which he wrote the novel (that is, to be aware of his intent) – it’s Catholic, middle-class and conservative. The referential context is one that exists outside the text and surrounds me, the author and it. When I’m reading a work by Tolkien, however, I do have to make a “direct” reference to Tolkien to be aware of the context in which he wrote the work, insofar as he (sub)created that context (Middle-Earth: and not the ‘facts’ of that realm, but the moral truths and vision).

The reference to Catholicism occasioned by a Waugh novel is not like the reference to Middle-Earth, insofar as I can accept/reject/question the Catholic context of Waugh’s novel any way I want (that is, accept/reject/question Catholicism). I am not bound to understand Waugh’s novels as a Catholic if I do not hold Catholic beliefs – I only have to be able to understand the novels like a Catholic (should I choose to). But with Tolkien, I don’t think I have that freedom, insofar as his vision of Middle-Earth includes, let’s call it “Eruism” (a terrible word, but please nobody take me to task for it too much). I cannot accept/reject/question this context without accepting/rejecting/questioning the whole fabric of the subcreated world. I can accept/reject/question the Catholicism that lies ‘behind’ the “Eruism” with the same freedom as in the Waugh novel, but that interpretive ‘layer’ of “Eruism” is always there and unquestionable. Middle-Earth has certain moral and interpretive rules, established by the author and embedded in the text, that I must accept – and these rules are of a kind and nature that simply do not exist outside subcreated worlds of fantasy. The “context” of LotR is not one that envelopes me, the text and the author equally.

And thus it is that one case in a thousand, where I am forced to resist the divorce of author and text – even as I want and need to.

Darn you Tolkien!
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Old 04-19-2004, 10:59 AM   #65
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I can accept/reject/question the Catholicism that lies ‘behind’ the “Eruism” with the same freedom as in the Waugh novel, but that interpretive ‘layer’ of “Eruism” is always there and unquestionable.
But only to the extent that you are aware of it. And most people's first experience of LotR, say, will be without knowledge of the existence of Eru or even that it is set in a monotheistic world. Eru only becomes "part of the story" as one reads further into Tolkien's works (unless one starts with the Silm). If a person's direct experience of Tolkien extends no further than the Hobbit and LotR, then surely they are entitled to exclude "Eruism" from their interpretation, even if they are subsequently told of its existence.
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Old 04-19-2004, 12:25 PM   #66
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I don't see how we can completely divorce the teller from the tale. The tale (even if we believe in such outlandish things as 'mediumship' & the phenomenon of 'recieved texts') is told by someone for some reason. Garth in T&TGW suggests that, in the early tales (Fall of Gondolin, Beren & Luthien, etc) Tolkien is 'mytholgising' his own life experiences - 'Gondolin' with its 'mechanical dragons' destroying the ancient Elven city, Beren & Luthien's mythologised 'retelling' of his & Edith's own love story.

Of course, these tales, & the Legendarium as a whole, take on their own 'life', but the seed from which they grew was Tolkien's own life experience. The Legendarium originated in his desire to give England back its lost mythological heritage. To seperate Tolkien from the Legendarium is to treat it as having arisen out of nowhere, or as a 'recieved text', dictated from 'on high'. Middle Earth didn't arise from a vacuum, it arose from the mind of a man, & took root in the 'leaf mould' of that man's imagination.

The Legendarium is Tolkien, Tolkien is the Legendarium. For this reason, I cannot agree with Maedhros approach. Why should the latest versions of any of Tolkien's stories have priority? The pre-LotR Silmarillion is all but complete, & is self contained, & works in its own right. In fact, one could argue that it is a more finished work than the post LotR Sil, which for me starts to come apart quite seriously, & is in some parts a mess. Maedhros' approach seems to be 'evolutionary' in its approach, in that it sees the later work as 'superior' simply because it came later. When the Hobbit was written, Gollum would have willingly handed over the Ring to Bilbo. It was only changed because LotR required it to be, not because the original was in any way 'bad'. For this reason, we can question Tolkien's motivation in changing the Sil stories from their pre- to post LotR forms. Were the changes made because Tolkien came up with what he thought were better, or 'truer' versions in every case, or were some (at least) of them changed in order to make them fit with other stories which he had changed. This is the problem with a collection of interlinked stories - if you change one story you may simply be forced to accomodate those changes in other stories, whether you want to or not. How many of the later changes would Tolkien have made if the stories were seperate enitities?

This is the problem with trying to construct a definitve Silmarillion by simply accepting the latest version of every story as Tolkien's 'best' version. There is no evidence to support this approach. Perhaps the reason he never re-wrote the Fall of Gondolin was because, however full of anachronisms the original may have been, however out of 'synch' it was with the later form of the mythology, it expressed something of his own personal experience in the best way, & he needed it to be left as it was, saying what it said. When we seperate the teller from the tale, & see the legendarium as a kind of 'real world' history, we inevitably run into this problem. We will, consciously or unconsciously, start to remove any difficult aspects (ie 'personal' to the author aspects) in order to create an (illusory) 'perfect' version. Perhaps the Fall of Gondolin with its tanks & troop carriers & Flamethrowers is the 'perfect' version - divorce it from the 'Legendarium' & look at it as a stand alone work - as some do with LotR & Hobbit - & ask yourself whether it needs a final 'perfect' form ('perfect' in this context seemingly only meaning a form which doesn't contradict the other stories Tolkien wrote).

This search for 'perfection' which is persued solely to produce a Legendarium which doesn't contradict itself, doesn't seem to me likely to produce anything other than an idiosyncratic version, which we have no reason to believe Tolkien would have had any time for. If Tolkien had lived another 20 years, & devoted every moment to working on the Legendarium we have no idea what he would have come up with - if we look at 'Myths Transformed' then we could speculate that one by one most, if not all, the 'primitive' or mythological aspects would have been whittled away & we would have ended up with a factual history of this world.

What most of us do is take as much as we like from the Legendarium, & leave the rest, because it doesn't speak to us. Most of us don't take such an analytical approach to an author's work, classifying some as 'canonical' & some as 'uncanonical'. The Storyteller tells us his story & we listen to it, & respond in our own way.

Some lines from David Jones' Anathemata spring to mind: 'It was a dark & stormy night, we sat by the calcined wall. It was said to the Tale Teller, 'Tell us a Tale'. And the Tale ran thus: 'It was a dark & stormy night....'

Tales grow out of the storyteller's own experience, & we respond out of our own. And in the end questions of 'canonicty' don't arise, because when we're 'enchanted' by the tale, those kind of questions are irrelevant. We can be moved by LotR even if we know nothing of the rest of the Legendarium. We can also be moved by the Fall of Gondolin in the Book of Lost Tales without having any context. If the spell is cast sufficiently well the tale will work on its own. If we change it simply to make it fit with other tales the same author wrote, we may only succeed in breaking the spell altogether - & for what result? To say we have a definitive version, we have produced the 'canon' & consigned the 'uncanonical' versions to the flames with the Heretics?

So, Maedhros, I can't accept your approach. I can't even accept the idea of 'casual readers' needing to be helped. There are readers who are 'enchanted' & readers who aren't. No-one who is 'enchanted' into Middle Earth feels 'casual' about it in any way. And pointing a 'canon' (am I the first one to make that joke? sorry if not ) at a new reader won't enchant them. It may drive them away, though, through feelings of inadequacy. That said, I wish you luck with your endevour, because you may well prove me wrong!

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Old 04-19-2004, 12:57 PM   #67
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Maedhros, many thanks for those guidelines; I'm sure they'll travel back to the 'canon' thread in a little while.

davem, canon vs enchantment I think has a lot of answers.

It's true that 'canon' means little or nothing to the new or casual reader.

It seems to mean a great deal to some scholars-- I don't count myself as one (on this board anyway) so I'll leave that where it is.

It can mean a great deal to the writer, and reader, of fan-fiction. After I had read and re-read LOTR, I began began looking for "more". What I wanted was more enchantment. "The Sword of Shanarra" didn't exactly give me what I was looking for. Precious little did.

But there are some fanfics that do. By and large, they are the canonically-friendly ones. These are the works that I read with delight, imagining that perhaps a long-lost manuscript of Tolkien's (and hence, Bilbo's, or even Ælfwine's) has been found in some dusty corner. Mithadan's Tales of Tol Eressea, chapter one, had that effect on me. So did "The Grey Ship" from TORn's greenbooks. Why? Because they were "gap fillers". They attempted to answer, in a canonically-friendly way, the heartfelt cry "but what happened afterwards?"

The sense of enchantment is lost quickly when -- 'scuse me, folks-- canon is violated. When the punchline is, "And then Frodo got married, moved back to the Shire and lived happily ever after", the enchantment is gone. So's the real Frodo.

How many promising writers wrote fanfics after having seen the first movie or read only the first book, that began well and ended "Alternate Universe"? If you wanted AU, that's OK; if you don't-- bleah.


As a fanfic writer, canon becomes a basic threshold for not disappointing the reader. If one is going to attempt to write gap-fillers, then they have to be woven in as seamlessly as possible. And to do that, you've got to define *some* sort of arena for playing in, for weaving into. LotR? Hobbit? Sil? Lost Tales? And it should be clear to the reader too, if you can do it. Otherwise the reader is susprised by that distressing "AU" aftertaste.

Case in point: Mith *never* gave me an AU with his "Tales." His Frodo was entirely plausible from start to finish.

So... canon may not be a big issue for Hobbit/LotR readers. And ask the scholars whether it is for them. But for a writer, it's critical. And once a reader ventures into fanfic, they might want to know, too.

edit: ps-- davem, I can't separate Tolkien from his writings either. Nor do I want to. And if I trust him enough to let him 'enchant' me, I'm not worried about whether his letters are trustworthy.
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Old 04-19-2004, 01:01 PM   #68
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Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
For example: what about the people out there who interpret LotR as a fascist novel? Or, what about people -- who do exist, sadly -- who interpret the novel as supporting white supremacy? What if I want to interpret the novel as an allegory about the rise of Communism (Sauron) in the early 20th century and the reprisal against that by bourgeouis, middle-class humanism (hobbits) and the remnants of a European aristrocratic society (Gondor)?
That is exactly where i apply a condition to interpretations for this reason:
Tolkien was not rasist or white supremisist and i think it would
make him sad if his writing (which he worked on his whole life) were
interpretted as being something bad like that.
For example, if you were compasionate for orphans and decided to write
a book in which you would encourage them and intended to give all the
profit to orphanages... Now if people started interpretting your book
as being prejudiced towards orphans it would in a sense feel like you have
been wrongfully accused of something using evidence against you that
you wrote with the hopes of achieving the opposite of what you are now
being accused of.

(that is not a flawless analogy, just the first one that came to mind)

Of course we are free to interpret in any way we want, but if you truly
apreciate the work you would not want to disrespect the author like that.
And if you did not like the work, you should not critisize it or disrespect
the author in the first place (kind of like saying christmas is pointless becuase you dont like cristmas trees). So although all veiws are equal,
some of them should not be taken in respect to the author.

[again i mention that Tolkiens interpretations of his works are only
suggestions one should accept if one wanted to understand his idea of ME,
they are as equal as ours]

when determining fact...
i would say that what Tolkien has published about ME is fact about ME
anyone else writing on ME (with possible exception of Christopher Tolkien)
is meerly speculation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
(Middle-Earth: and not the ‘facts’ of that realm, but the moral truths and vision).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
Middle-Earth has certain moral and interpretive rules, established by the author and embedded in the text, that I must accept
These last two quotes are exactly what i am referring to, and mr hedgethistle,
with that post i do agree one million percent
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Old 04-19-2004, 01:35 PM   #69
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Eru only becomes "part of the story" as one reads further into Tolkien's works (unless one starts with the Silm). If a person's direct experience of Tolkien extends no further than the Hobbit and LotR, then surely they are entitled to exclude "Eruism" from their interpretation, even if they are subsequently told of its existence.
Good Gracious Saucepan Man, but you do want to make me work my brain don’t you – ack!

At any rate, I have to say that on this point I utterly disagree with you. There are so many markers of what I will obstinately now call Eruism without the “” that I cannot see how anyone could miss them. Please note, that my horrific new word is Eruism and not Eru – so, sure, while there may not be any direct reference to Eru in The Hobbit or LotR, there are more than enough examples of Eru’s effect on Middle-Earth (His presence in the unravelling of the story) that the following is fairly palpable to even the most casual reader (dreadful phrase – who amongst us ever felt ‘casual’ when reading Tolkien’s utterly engrossing stories?):

1) Somebody ‘up there’ is very much in charge of events – c.f. Gandalf’s comments in “Shadows of the Past” regarding the finding of the Ring (“there was another power at work in that, beyond the will of the Ring’s Maker. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring”; once more, I am distant from my books so all quotes will be approximate). (Oh, and please nobody interpret this as the beginning of the free-will/fate/providence debate – I’m having a tough enough time processing the current thread.)

2) Gandalf is a ‘divine’ or even ‘angelic’ minister (he’s been around a very long time; he takes on a balrog then comes back from the dead; he performs magic; he says to the balrog “I am the servant of the secret fire”; he utters the above sentiment, number 1 – and many like them – indicating that he’s got some really good inside information; he’s able to ‘save’ Frodo from the Eye – at Amon Hen – from a psychic distance).

3) Aragorn is a ‘divinely sanctioned’ king (the light that shines around his head like a flame when he ‘reveals’ himself; the hands of the healer that show him to be the true king to the people of Minas Tirith).

4) There are ‘gods’ or ‘angelic’ ministers in Middle-Earth or who can affect it (at the council of Elrond, one of the suggestions is to send the Ring “over the sea” to those who dwell in the West).

5) The ancient stories of that constitute the closest thing M-E has to ‘sacred texts’ are presented as verifiable historical facts (i.e. Luthien is somebody whom at least one of the characters we meet in the tale knew personally!)

6) Tom Bombadil and Treebeard both make references to the ‘creation’ of Middle-Earth in such a way as to demonstrate that it came into being not through the slow accretion of dust about a central ball of highly-condensed gas in which nuclear fusion began.

And I could go on, but I haven’t the time or energy. I shall leave off this post by arguing simply that in Middle-Earth there is palpable and demonstrable sense of the sacred and the divine in all aspects of its subcreation. This is, perhaps, why there is no need for formal religion or religious practices in Middle-Earth (at least in the Hobbit and LotR) – the presence of Eru (if not the name, nature or mind) is so apparent that religious practice is irrelevant. It just occurs to me that this is more than likely the source of that lovely sense of enchantment about which davem has been so consistently and eloquently writing.

To return to my thought above: it is possible to develop a non-Catholic interpretation of an Evelyn Waugh novel because Catholicism is as open to question both in the text as it is out of the text. It is impossible to develop a non-Eruistic (yuck yuck yuck) interpretation of Tolkien’s texts (any part of the historia?) without ignoring the abovementioned examples and many many more.
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Old 04-19-2004, 02:16 PM   #70
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Bless you Bêthberry! You have asked the magic question that has finally unlocked for me the nagging thoughts that led to my initiating this thread in the first place. Yes, 999 times out of a thousand I would agree (and defend with great vitriol and vigour) the absolute ?divorce? of author from text necessitated by the centrality of the text (you note, I do not go so far as do Foucault and Barthes ? and, I rather suspect, yourself?). But Tolkien is that one in a thousand insofar as his texts exist in a context that is of the author?s (sub)creation, thus forcing me ?back? to the author, even as I wish to retain my absolute freedom as a reader.
Think you can integrate yourself into the mainstream of referentiality and leave me to be done in by the laundry truck, eh? (Everyone, sorry, that's an inside joke about the critics mentioned.)

Let me characterise my position, and not you, my good sir. For the time being, let me make two observations about your thoughts here.

First, it seems to me that you are suggesting a poetics for fantasy that differentiates it from realistic (for want of a better word) fiction. Do you intend this?

Second, are you making this claim for all writers of fantasy, or just Tolkien? On what basis do you or would you eliminate other writers?

Third, you will have to run by me again your point that since our reading of Middle-earth has no reference to our 'real' world, we are totally dependent upon the author for giving it credibility. This seems to me to overlook many other forms of narrative which aren't 'based' on our real world. How do we read ancient texts of early mythology? Or even translations from other cultures which would not, at least on first read, have this already-known distinction between Primary and Secondary worlds.

I tend to agree with Mr. SaucepanMan that there is no distinction between "Eruism" and Waugh's Catholicism in terms of reading experience. In fact, I recall a very similar discussion years ago in class, on Graham Greens' Brighton Rock, on where lay the "ideology" of Catholicism. Green's method--particularly in the use of colour symbolism among other aspects of the stories--is very close to Tolkien's method. Students who had no knowledge of Catholicism (whether by faith or by scholarly learning) could not 'see' the meaning until, in the process of discussion, they understood what others saw. This did not invalidate their reading per se; it was simply an aspect of the text which gave fuller meaning to some than to others. And, very interestingly, I remember one student pointing out that, even in the absence of this extra-textual knowledge of Catholicism, a reader could begin to see the various patterns shaping the novel.

Now, of course, we don't have this "extra-textual" (hee hee, not extraterrestial) referentiality for Middle-earth. We do have the books themselves. To me, Tolkien's Letters are merely glosses on what the stories provide. There cannot ever be, for me, a "definitive" Galadriel, because any authorising of one version of the character would cancel out the earlier (or later) versions of her character. The "truth" of Galadriel exists in this unfolding and extrapolating of ideas and to limit her to any one of the versions would, to me, violate (ironically here you might add), the story process.

Just as I have to wonder if the formal 'text' of LOTR or of TH supports the interpetation of dwarves which Tolkien puts forth in The Appendix, of their imperviousness to the desire for domination which the ring produces.

davem, I should clarify some points for you but must run. Later.
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Old 04-19-2004, 02:32 PM   #71
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This is the problem with trying to construct a definitve Silmarillion by simply accepting the latest version of every story as Tolkien's 'best' version. There is no evidence to support this approach. Perhaps the reason he never re-wrote the Fall of Gondolin was because, however full of anachronisms the original may have been, however out of 'synch' it was with the later form of the mythology, it expressed something of his own personal experience in the best way, & he needed it to be left as it was, saying what it said. When we seperate the teller from the tale, & see the legendarium as a kind of 'real world' history, we inevitably run into this problem. We will, consciously or unconsciously, start to remove any difficult aspects (ie 'personal' to the author aspects) in order to create an (illusory) 'perfect' version. Perhaps the Fall of Gondolin with its tanks & troop carriers & Flamethrowers is the 'perfect' version - divorce it from the 'Legendarium' & look at it as a stand alone work - as some do with LotR & Hobbit - & ask yourself whether it needs a final 'perfect' form ('perfect' in this context seemingly only meaning a form which doesn't contradict the other stories Tolkien wrote).
I don't think that you truly get the point. It is false that we always use the latest version or idea of Tolkien in constructing a more complete Silmarillion if you will. Take the case of the Parentage of Gil Galad, there is a note in the end, which states that Gil-Galad resided in the Mouths of Sirion and that he had escaped the Fall of Nargothrond. If you take that to mean literarilly that, then there would be a huge gap in the Narn i Chîn Húrin, because there is no mention of Gil-Galad in there. This is one case in which, because that note could affect dramatically that structure, we left it alone.
The case of the Fall of Gondolin is interesting. First, it is untrue to say that he never worked on it. Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin is the beginning of the rewriting of that Tale, and the quality and detail which JRRT added makes that version IMO superior to the first part of the Tale.
If you look into detail the typescripts that are pertinent to the Fall of Gondolin, you would notice that indeed there was never a clear rejection of the Mechanical Monsters used in the original Tale. Thanks to Findegil, we ended up using them in our version.

Quote:
Tales grow out of the storyteller's own experience, & we respond out of our own. And in the end questions of 'canonicty' don't arise, because when we're 'enchanted' by the tale, those kind of questions are irrelevant. We can be moved by LotR even if we know nothing of the rest of the Legendarium. We can also be moved by the Fall of Gondolin in the Book of Lost Tales without having any context. If the spell is cast sufficiently well the tale will work on its own. If we change it simply to make it fit with other tales the same author wrote, we may only succeed in breaking the spell altogether - & for what result? To say we have a definitive version, we have produced the 'canon' & consigned the 'uncanonical' versions to the flames with the Heretics?
That is your opinion and that is ok, but I don't think that you can truly see the beauty of our Revised Fall of Gondolin. To have a description of the city of Gondolin, with all of the notes of Tolkien in there, the banners of Fingolfin, the house of the King, and the poem of the Horns of Ylmir to me is awesome.
I think that the text by themselves enchant you nonetheless, and definitely can stand on their own. A normal fan of JRRT is certainly welcome to enjoy those tales, but I believe that if you want more, a more scholarly approach to the works and evolution of the legendarium of JRRT, one cannot be content with that. I think that one has to look for more.

Quote:
So, Maedhros, I can't accept your approach. I can't even accept the idea of 'casual readers' needing to be helped. There are readers who are 'enchanted' & readers who aren't. No-one who is 'enchanted' into Middle Earth feels 'casual' about it in any way. And pointing a 'canon' (am I the first one to make that joke? sorry if not ) at a new reader won't enchant them. It may drive them away, though, through feelings of inadequacy. That said, I wish you luck with your endevour, because you may well prove me wrong!
It is interesting your input and appreciated. The casual reader doesn't need to be helped because to me the casual reader won't truly submerge himself into the legendarium of JRRT. But what happens when someone reads the Published Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales , The Road Goes ever On and some of the Letters of JRRT and see the different status of Galadriel. Is there is a canonical version, is there a true version, is there a more likely version?
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Old 04-19-2004, 03:47 PM   #72
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Maybe I should add a bit to Maédhros explaination of our approch for cannon. He had given rules that we created in long and very hard process of group-discussion (much thanks to Lindil and Aiwendil how had done the most work in it). And Maédhros does also defend the rules well my oppion. What he did not do and what I think is essential for any approch for "cannon" is giving the goal we are working for.
The goal is a as fully told legendarium of Eá as possible which is self consistent and which is true to the ideas of JRR Tolkien as fare as possible.
The benefit of such a text would be an easier approch to the spell casting texts like The Fall of Gondolin. How many readers have rebuke The Silmarillion as being boring an styled like an historical compendium? Didn't you enjoy The Narn because it was much fuller in styl then the short chapter in The Silmarillion? How many readers have ever enjoyed The Wanderings of Húrin?

Sorry, I have to run out of the door know. I hope to continue later.

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Old 04-19-2004, 05:04 PM   #73
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Silmaril Eru and me

Well, this discussion is splitting out into various threads, most of which I feel woefully unqualified to contribute to (although I still find them fascinating to read). So I will limit myself to responding on the issue of whether Fordim's "Eruism" (and I still feel it neccessary to use the quote marks ) is apparent from a reading of LotR alone.


Quote:
There are so many markers of what I will obstinately now call Eruism without the “” that I cannot see how anyone could miss them.
I can only speak from experience but, as an 11 year old first time reader of LotR, I certainly missed them. In fact, despite having re-read the book on a number of occasions since, I never really considered the relevance of this issue until I joined this forum just over a year ago and began to read Tolkien's other works more widely.

Yes, the markers are there, as you say. It is difficult now to reconstruct how I reacted to them when I first read the book. Perhaps I was too busy enjoying the story itself to pay them any heed. Or perhaps I had some vague idea of divine powers at work in Middle-earth. I suspect the latter, although I certainly felt no need to know more about them at the time than the story itself told me. The references that you give, Fordim, do not, taken alone, provide concrete evidence of the existence of divine powers. They could simply represent the beliefs of the characters involved. And they do not necessarily point to the existence of a single supreme being. Of course, I am not, and have never been, an overtly religious person, and so that would undoubtedly have coloured my response to the book.

As I have said, I did try reading the (then recently published) Silmarillion shortly after reading LotR for the first or second time, but never got any further than the Ainulindale. So, on subsequent readings, I was tentatively aware of the existence of Eru and Middle-earth's creation story. But I don't think that it really impacted upon those subsequent readings.

So I would say no, reading the story itself does not necessarily give rise to an awareness of this concept of "Eruism". And I do not believe that such an awareness is a necessary prerequisite to an enjoyment of the story.


Quote:
casual reader (dreadful phrase – who amongst us ever felt ‘casual’ when reading Tolkien’s utterly engrossing stories?
Ulp! I feel that I may have been responsible for coining that phrase. But I think that there are casual readers of Tolkien's works, at least of The Hobbit and LotR. There are those who read the story, think it a cracking good yarn, and then move on.

As I have said, I will refrain from dipping my toe in the many other issues that have been raised. Although I will reiterate one point, which, although it may be trite to say it, I feel is still important to bear in mind, as I believe that it underlies everything being discussed. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to approach Tolkien's works. Each individual is free to take from them what they will. If you want to accept some of his writings and reject others, then that is up to you. If you want to construct a "as fully told legendarium of Eá as possible which is self consistent and which is true to the ideas of JRR Tolkien as far as possible", then that is fine. If you want to write fan-fictions, whether "canonical" or not, then it is your right to do so. My only caveat is that the kinds of restrictions which I mentioned earlier may arise when you start to discuss your views, interpretations, opinions etc with, or to disseminate them to, others.

That, however, is not in any way intended to denigrate the value of this discussion which, as I have said, I am finding utterly engrossing.
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Old 04-19-2004, 06:33 PM   #74
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Bethberry -

Your earlier post suggested Rimbaud and I took starkly different positions on the issue of class, particularly as it relates to Sam and Frodo. (The italics below are mine.)

Quote:
Take, for example, a discussion some of us had back a year or so ago, on the question of the English mythology impetus behind LOTR. This discussion was brought back to mind now by Helen's most recent post. Helen characterised as a "Wild Theme" the statement, "Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant." The discussion was mainly between Child and Rimbaud, with Rimbaud suggesting that the relationship between Sam and Frodo was slightly or barely above the level of parody of the master servant relationship.

Rimbaud is far more acutely aware of the English social class structure--which still to this day informs English society--than any of we North Americans, even those who have visited England for some time.
This is a characterization of my stance that I would like to correct. There are two threads pertaining to this. The first was Concerning the Gaffer. where Bird, Child, and Rimbaud--posting in that order-- made strong arguments that the relationship between Frodo and Samwise was heavily influenced by class considerations. There were no differences between us.

The second was Losing Sight of the Basics... I believe this is the one you were thinking of. The discussion in this thread went all over creation, touching on many subjects. Somewhere in there, Rimbaud and I agreed that class was critical in British history from the early modern period forward. There was only one point of difference in our view. Rimbaud argued that class distinctions operated during the medieval period (prior to 1300), while I (and Littlemanpoet ) contended this was not so. Disparities of wealth obviously existed, but "class" implies a certain degree of consciousness on the part of the members of that group. Most medieval historians do not feel that medieval man ever reached such a consciousness. The earliest hints we have are in the 14th and 15th century when certain small uprisings occur among the peasants. But many would deny that class feeling even played a part in this.

In that same thread, I agreed with Rimbaud that the issue of class was clearly present in Tolkien's Shire because of its Victorian/Edwardian calque, and was a significant factor in Sam and Frodo's relationship. So I am truly not aware of any discussion where we stood on opposite sides concerning Samwise in the manner you describe. Rimbaud did have a one-sentence reference to the "perceived Englishness of the books" as being " only slightly removed from parody", but this was never explcitly tied to Sam or our discussion on class as a factor in history.

I think we also have to guard against another danger: the assumption that if you belong to a particular group, you have an inherent advantage in posting on questions of a certain type. I know you did not mean that when you spoke of Rimbaud's innate advantage in being born in England and having a close look at the class system there. But I have seen this stretched and misused elsewhere: for example, someone arguing that a woman's opinion is inherently more valuable on a question such as whether Tolkien was "prejudiced" against women, since the woman would have the advantage of studying such problems more closely. I am uncomfortable with that.

This post is definitely a side road, but I knew of no other way to distinguish my views from what was said earlier in the thread. For both family and academic reasons, I have strong feelings about class and the role it still plays in shaping how we treat and view each other. I can rightfully be accused of too much nostalgia in viewing certain aspects of life. But when it comes to a serious historical assessment, or considering Sam and Frodo's early relationship, issues of class seem paramount to me.

Sharon
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:02 PM   #75
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Question

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord of Angmar
As has so often been the case, Saucepan Man, you have described more eloquently and accurately what I have tried to say. Earlier in the post, I wrote:The Ka, I am not following you.I do not see any paradox in these two statements, as they seem to be somewhat unrelated to each other; one deals with Tolkien's contributions as an author and the other deals with the applicability of a situation within his writing. Could you explain?

It's okay. Sometimes, excuse me! i mean to say, most of the time especially with topics such as this i tend to become too philisophical and " airy". As we all know ( so i do hope), when this happens our thoughts tend to take too much of an airy flight so, that none but ourselves can comprehend their possible inscription. Let's just say, i got "too" into it. As for your explanation, i can put it into more understandable terms of notification. Notice when i wrote " fixed ideas". When we learn something or we read something, we begin to remember what we have read, and how we might interperate it. Everyone judges things differently than his other fellow. That's why their unrelated. I was trying to show some of the many examples the Tolkien himself was asked and what i have gathered from the discussions on this wonderful but, sometimes untranslatable forum. This topic i can guess will take many an interperatation to finally become aware to everyone and understood. I love challenges like this... maybe too much. oh, well. we are all different minds trying to think alike in the same room.
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:17 PM   #76
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Well, well! look at this wonderful thread of complaints, points of view, side views, compliments, and "fixed ideas"... who would of ever thought this would develop into such a wonderful disscusion! who knows when it will quiet end! and a good thing it hasn't ! This in my opinion, ( which you may or may not, if you chose, take in for consideration.) is the best disscusion this forum's had yet! first of all, i would like to give a enormous compliments to the original author, for i have been informed that this is their first post! bravo, bravo! (if i am wrong, that means that at least two other members are wrong as well.) if not their first post, well i still say this is the best disscusion yet! And just look at the momentum and body of the replies of this thread! wonderful! Well, i am going to take a break and let someone other than me take a turn at this many diamond-faced disscusion.

goodbye for now. Blessed Be all, The Ka.
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Old 04-19-2004, 08:51 PM   #77
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Child,

I regret that my words clearly have struck a strong chord with you, someone whose work and posts I admire, and one which chimes off time with this thread. Please let me clarify, for in all honestly I did not intend the mischaracterisation which you feel and, also in all honestly, I do believe there was a "starkly different position on class."

First, I was by no means attributing Helen's statement ("Frodo degraded Sam by calling him a servant") to either you or Rimbaud; I used it as an example of how a naive statement by an undeveloped or immature reader can spark ideas and, in fact, hit upon an important issue in a book without really understanding it. The ideas sparked in my mind was my memory of the discussion on the thread, Losing Sight of the Basics, which you have very kindly found and linked.

I meant that naive North American readers, of the kind who would make the claim suggested by Helen, would perhaps naturally not understand a class based society such as that suggested by Sam and Frodo in The Shire. It also recalled something to my mind that I did not state here, nor back on the original thread, yet perhaps it is not inappropriate to explain it now. I had a colleague, a Canadian married to an Englishman, who recounted to me her first experience of visiting England with her husband in the late 1980's. She could not understand how often he was riled by mild comments from others. And she could not understand how he would receive certain kind of comments where she would not. Finally she asked her husband about it. He claimed that his accent (not to me a working class accent at all) still drew snide remarks from those who spoke middle or higher class accents. When she asked why she was immune to this, he explained it was because she was not English and missed the subtle nuances of social play that still existed. Here were two academics, Child, whose differing social contexts in fact created very different experiences even now, of the English class system. It was this kind of intimate experience I was thinking of when I tried to understand how Helen's "imaginary" reader could misunderstand the role of servant, someone with much less experience than my two friends.

Rimbaud's initial comment contained the reference to parody. Parody, however, was not an issue you raised with him. Where you did agree with him was, as you have stated here, that class issues clearly were a significant factor in Sam's and Frodo's relationship.

Child's last comment on this point:
Quote:
I do agree with your assessment of Frodo and Sam. Class is a definite factor. Indeed, at the beginning of the story, it is the single most important element in their relationship. In my mind, this is because the Shire is a definite "calque" on Victorian/Edwardian society which was running over with class consciousness.

My reservations about "class" do not apply to the Shire, but only those elements of Middle-earth which look back to an older model.

There was an amicable decision to disagree about a particular aspect--at least that was and remains my interpretation of the thread.

Rimbaud's posts:
Quote:
Child, greatly though I admire your erudition and knowledge on the subject, I disagree with you on this point. In a most amicable way, of course. The medieval period in England (and, as I argued previously, all prior recorded periods) are dominated by race and class. There were gradations of Jutes and Angles and Saxons and there were distinct hierachies between and within them...

[He provides several other paragraphs of examples in this post and then this in a following one.}

I am not willing to enter into heated debate on the origins of class - the nomenclature itself has now been questioned, which gives rise to a host of definition-based arguments - but it is important to contextualise; Tolkien was writing in the mid and post War periods of class dissolution and the issue would have been at the forefront of educated thinking.

Child's reply:

Quote:
Rimbaud: I always like your posts. They make me think and this time is no exception. But I fear we'll have to agree to disagree. The critical point for me is not the disparity in wealth, which certainly existed. I feel that class implies a certain consciousness on the part of the members of that group. And I do not believe medieval man ever reached such a consciousness. He simply did not picture himself in this way. The earliest hints of this are in the 14th and 15th century when certain small uprisings occur among the peasants. But many medievalists would dispute even this.
This is, to me, a matter of professional difference among academics, issues of definitions, procedures and applications. It is similar to the differences you and I have about literature. Philosophical differences, to my mind, do cause us to read things differently.

But in all reality my main purpose in recalling the thread was to demonstrate just how siginficant that poor old newbie's honest ignorance could be. That you found occasion to feel I misrepresented you I thoroughly regret.


Respectfully,
Bethberry
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Old 04-19-2004, 09:17 PM   #78
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Oh how wonderful, Bêthberry – an itemised list of questions for me to answer! [*Fordim drools on his keyboard*]

I shall tackle them (best I may) one by one:

Quote:
First, it seems to me that you are suggesting a poetics for fantasy that differentiates it from realistic (for want of a better word) fiction. Do you intend this?
Yes, I rather I suppose that I am; but in this I am merely following in the (much larger) footsteps of Professor Tolkien, and the theories that he laid out in “On Fairy-Stories”. The reasons for this are best to be found in his writings, but I shall attempt to delineate my own below.

Quote:
Second, are you making this claim for all writers of fantasy, or just Tolkien? On what basis do you or would you eliminate other writers?
For the moment I am merely theorising about what I’ve found in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth without having given any thought to other fantasy writers – so I shan’t attempt to address the issue of “eliminating” them quite yet.

However…

It does strike me that of all the fantasy novels I’ve read, Tolkien has been the most (but not the only) successful subcreator. This is due, I think, to two things. First, by the time he came to write TH and LotR, he already had a vast storehouse of works to draw on. The ‘reality’ of Middle-Earth pre-existed the historia he generated in response to that reality. This gives M-E an authenticity that other subcreated worlds lack. In essence, he created a narrative to suit a world that already existed; in all the other fantasy novels I’ve read, the world was created to serve the purpose of the narrative. Second, Tolkien began his subcreation from the point at which all reality (or realities) are created – with language. Everything in M-E is the result of his experiments in language creation. One of my favourite quotes from Letters (and I can hear Saucepan Man falling out of his chair with undignified mirth at my expense as I cite this!) is in a letter to Christopher from 1958:

“Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true. An enquirer (among many) asked what the L.R. was all about, and whether it was an ‘allegory.’ And I said that it was an effort to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen sila lúmenn’ omentielmo.”

To quote a text that is probably quite familiar to many of the people participating in this thread: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Quote:
Third, you will have to run by me again your point that since our reading of Middle-earth has no reference to our 'real' world, we are totally dependent upon the author for giving it credibility. This seems to me to overlook many other forms of narrative which aren't 'based' on our real world. How do we read ancient texts of early mythology? Or even translations from other cultures which would not, at least on first read, have this already-known distinction between Primary and Secondary worlds.
I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I feel as though we are, “totally dependent upon the author for giving it credibility.” As I stated in an earlier post, the way I see my relation with LotR is a kind of process as I strive for my “absolute freedom” while simultaneously acknowledging the “presence” of Tolkien. I’ll use your Brighton Rock example to try and explain better:

Catholicism, for the sake of my analogy, is a big blanket that surrounds and wraps up in it Graham Greene, myself and Brighton Rock. This blanket has existed for a very long time and is the product of many weavers. Mr. Greene and I both are equally able to pick threads out of it, add to it, or attempt to tear it. We are both equally able to pull the blanket about the novel as we read it, or, alternately, to lift the novel out of the blanket and read it in another light.

Now, with LotR, things get more complicated. Tolkien, LotR and myself are still surrounded by the blanket of Catholicism…as we are by the other forms of ‘external’ codings/beliefs/genres (discourses?) that you ask about above. But there’s another blanket as well to contend with: the blanket of “Eruism” (Saucepan Man has shamed me into putting the “” back on that). This blanket was made by the author of the text, and as such, it does not surround me, but the text and Tolkien. In order to ‘get at’ LotR I have to accept that blanket as-is, for the reasons I’ve already gone into above. And this blanket has interpretative implications (Providence is a ‘real’ and historical force; Good and Evil are discreet forces in a bipolar relation; divinity is immanent, not transcendent).

It’s not that M-E has no reference to the ‘real world’, it’s just that its primary moral/interpretative referent is also subcreated: Eruism. And Eruism is as real as Frodo, the White Mountains, Trolls and Treebeard.

In essence: I can lift LotR ‘out’ of the blanket of Catholicism, but the blanket of Eruism is another matter – it’s a cloth-binding stitched onto the very boards of its covers

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

An aside: I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been posting to this thread. It has been one of the most singularly rewarding experiences of my intellectual career, and I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning!

Quick Note to THE Ka: this thread was indeed my first post to the discussion forums (although I have been rpg-ing for a while), but the credit for the quality of the conversation must go entirely to the posters. Let me just say it loud and proud:

I love the Barrow Downs!

(Is there a special room reserved for people like me at Betty Ford?)
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Old 04-20-2004, 06:42 AM   #79
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Well, I have been unlucky to miss this thread from its beginning, so I now would rather abstain from rushing in head on. My compliments to Fordim Hedgethistle for starting it up, and all participants for, well, participating. I would add a bit, though, which is, in fact, practical joke, but it seems rather relevant to what is so hotly discussed here. The source of it is located at http://www.mark-shea.com/, and I would like to give credit to lindil who have provided me with this piece for my amusement some months before. I hope you'll enjoy it:

************************************

The Lord of the Rings: A Source-Criticism Analysis

Experts in source-criticism now know that The Lord of the Rings is a
redaction of sources ranging from the Red Book of Westmarch (W) to Elvish
Chronicles (E) to Gondorian records (G) to orally transmitted tales of the
Rohirrim (R). The conflicting ethnic, social and religious groups which
preserved these stories all had their own agendas, as did the "Tolkien"
(T) and "Peter Jackson" (PJ) redactors, who are often in conflict with each
other as well but whose conflicting accounts of the same events reveals a
great deal about the political and religious situations which helped to
form our popular notions about Middle Earth and the so-called "War of the
Ring.".

Into this mix are also thrown a great deal of folk materials about a
supposed magic "ring" and some obscure figures named "Frodo" and "Sam". In
all likelihood, these latter figures are totems meant to personify the
popularity of Aragorn with the rural classes.

Because The Lord of the Rings is a composite of sources, we may be quite
certain that "Tolkien" (if he ever existed) did not "write" this work in
the conventional sense, but that it was assembled over a long period of time
by someone else of the same name. We know this because a work of the range,
depth, and detail of The Lord of the Rings is far beyond the capacity of
any modern expert in source-criticism to ever imagine creating themselves.

The tension between source materials and the various redactors is evident
in several cases. T is heavily dependent upon Gondorian records and clearly
elevates the claims of the Aragorn monarchy over the House of Denethor.
From this it is obvious that the real "War of the Ring" was a dynastic struggle
between these two clans for supremacy in Gondor. The G source, which plays
such a prominent role in the T-redacted account of Aragorn, is
significantly downplayed by the PJ redactor in favor of E versions. In the T account,
Aragorn is portrayed as a stainless saint, utterly sure of his claims to
the throne and so self-possessed that he never doubts for a moment his right
to seize power. Likewise, in the T account, the Rohirrim are conveniently
portrayed as willing allies and vassals to the Aragorn monarchy, living in
perfect harmony with the Master Race of Numenoreans who rule Gondor.

Yet even the T redactor cannot eliminate from the R source the towering
Amazon figure of Eowyn, who is recorded as taking up arms the moment the
previous king of Rohan, Theoden, is dead. Clearly we are looking at
heavily reworked coup d'etat attempt by the princess of the Rohirrim against
Aragorn's supremacy. Yet this hard kernel of historical fact is cleverly
sublimated under folk materials (apparently legends of the obscure figure
of "Meriadoc"). Instead of the historical account of her attempt on Aragorn's
throne as it originally stood in R, she is instead depicted as engaging in
battle with a mythical "Lord of the Nazgul" (apparently a figure from W
sources) and shown fighting on Aragorn's side. This attempt to sublimate
Eowyn does not convince the trained eye of the source-criticism expert,
who astutely notes that Eowyn is wounded in battle at the same moment Denethor dies. Obviously, Eowyn and Denethor were in league against Aragorn but were defeated by the latter's partisans simultaneously.

This tendency to distort the historical record recurs many times in T.
Indeed, many scholars now believe the so-called "Madness of Denethor" in T
(which depicts Denethor as a suicide) is, in fact, a sanitized version of
the murder of Denethor by Aragorn through the administration of poison
(possibly distilled from a plant called athelas).

In contrast to T, the PJ redaction of Aragorn is filled with self-doubts
and frequently rebuked by PJ-redacted Elrond. Probably this is due to PJ's own
political and religious affiliations which seek, in particular, to exalt
the Elvish claims to supremacy against Numenorean claims.

T suggests some skill on Aragorn's part in the use of pharmaceutical (and
hallucinogenic?) plants which may account for some of the more "visionary"
moments of mysterious beings like "Black Riders" who appear to have been
tribal chieftains hostile to the Aragorn dynasty. PJ, however, exalts
Elrond's healing powers over Aragorn's. This is probably rooted in some
incident of psychosomatic healing repeatedly chronicled in different
sources. Thus, the G source also has an account of Frodo's "healing by
Aragorn" on the Field of Cormallen but E places it at Rivendell and
attributes the healing to Elrond. Since we know that "Frodo" is likely
just a figure representing the rural population and not an historical
personage, most scholars therefore conclude that "Frodo's" healing is just T's
symbolic representation of Aragorn's program of socio-economic appeasement of the agrarian class, while his healing by Elrond is a nature myth representing
the renewal of the annual crops.

Of course, the "Ring" motif appears in countless folk tales and is to be
discounted altogether. Equally dubious are the "Gandalf" narratives, which
appear to be legends of a shamanistic figure, introduced to the narrative
by W out of deference to local Shire cultic practice.

Finally, we can only guess at what the Sauron sources might have revealed,
since they must have been destroyed by victors who give a wholly negative
view of this doubtlessly complex, warm, human, and many-sided figure.
Scholars now know, of course, that the identification of Sauron with "pure
evil" is simply absurd. Indeed, many scholars have undertaken a "Quest for
the Historical Sauron" and are searching the records with growing passion
and urgency for any lore connected with the making of the One Ring. "It's
all legendary, of course," says Dr. S. Aruman, "Especially the absurd tale
of Frodo the Nine-Fingered. After all, the idea of anyone deliberately
giving up Power is simply impossible and would call into question the most
precious thesis of postmodern ideology: that everything is a power
struggle on the basis of race, class and gender. Still... I... should... very much
like to have a look at it. Just for scholarly purposes, of course."


***************************************

But I can't stand the temptation of giving you my opinion (in brief) too. Though I liked the initial post very much, I'd rather not indulge in things like to one I provided you with. And it seems to me ideas expressed in the initial post may lead to the like of the joke I hope you've found funny (or six legged bark eaters at that ).

On the whole, I seem to agree up to a point to both sides here. I tend to view the whole bulk of Tolkien's works as bundle of accounts by different authors, collected and summarized by Tolkien. But, whilst I retain my freedom to be picky among those accounts (so, I tend to view account of round sun more accurate than of two trees), I do not hold with adding up new theories from outside the boundaries defined by this collective authorship (which condensed on the end of Tolkien's pen, so to say. All else from outside is not canonical
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Old 04-20-2004, 07:26 AM   #80
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1420! eeee- morphing bark eaters

Quote:
six legged bark eaters at that
Arms, HI m'love, they had six *arms*--no distorting of "Fordim's Canon", HI m'love ! I refer to post # 7 in which this historia fact is clearly stated, that is *if* we can trust a mere unpublished post.
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