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Old 06-16-2004, 06:28 AM   #1
mark12_30
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Silmaril Tolkien fandom: 'high', purged of the gross?

In his letters, Tolkien spoke of Middle-Earth in elegant and lofty terms. Here's a quote from letter 131.

Quote:
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story-the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air' (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.
Now that we've become aquainted with TOlkien's legendarium (his whole tale of Middle-Earth, his mythology, the grand sweep of his storytelling) have we "bought into " his ideals? Do we prefer his ideals, as bolded above? Here's a list:

What did he mean by "high and purged of the gross?" Is that important?

Quote:
great, vast, fullness, clear, fair elusive beauty, steeped in poetry, majestic, splendour.
For instance, Does current Tolkien fandom reflect those ideals? Do the conversations on the Barrowdowns reflect those ideals?

(There is another thread for movie-related comments. Movie thread )
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Old 06-16-2004, 02:58 PM   #2
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I had always carelessly supposed that he was referring to the, shall we say, unpleasantness of many aspects of 'the real world' as opposed to the idealistic romantic stuff he was writing about.

However, I'm not sure I quite understand what the topic is about mark? Could you possibly elaborate? For my benefit if nothing else!
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Old 06-18-2004, 06:33 AM   #3
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Eomer, I've edited my original post.

I'll talk a little bit about "high, purged of the gross". By "high" I think he means "heroic", in one sense, and also highly moral in another sense. Some people use the phrase "called higher" in a moral sense; I think Tolkien would like that phrase. There are many different aspects of this.

As a quick (and dirty) example, as Tolkien tells the story, I don't think there are many moments in the common activities of the characters in LOTR that one would respond to with "Eeew, gross." Tolkien reserves the feeling of slimy revulsion for the works of the enemy. When they get to the Dead Marshes, Shelob and her lair, orcs and their strongholds, and (interestingly) Gollum eating whatever he can find, *then* we are meant to feel revulsion.

As another instance, when Frodo and Sam get to Dagorlad, and there are ashes and oily pits everywhere, Sam's response is "I feel sick." We are meant to understand that the whole place nauseates him. But notice that Tolkien doesn't say that he loses his lunch; that would be "gross", wouldn't it?

One can argue that it's natural enough to lose one's lunch when one is nauseated, and I doubt Tolkien would argue; but he chose not to discuss it in detail, only to hint at the possibility. We could call it "tasteful", we could call it decorum or propriety. Or we could cal it "heroic tone"; none of the old epics talk about things we think of as normal and messy and unpleasant.

But there are many other aspects of Tolkien's "high" aspirations. For instance, Tolkien states somewhere in the appendices talking about orc speech, that it was actually a lot worse than he reported. Worse how? More obscene? More blasphemous? More vulgar? He specifically does *not* tell us. Why? Because that would lower the tone of the tale.

There are many aspects like this, where Tolkien *just doesn't talk* about stuff.

Does Tolkien fandom reflect that? Do Tolkien fans want to reflect that? Do we value that? What's good about it?
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Old 06-18-2004, 06:57 AM   #4
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I think I understand what you are getting at now mark. (Do other people call you 'mark'? Let me know if not! )

I certainly felt changed after I read The Lord of the Rings. I definitely felt more inclined to watch my language and mind my manners. Vulgar language is just something that doesn't go with the book. You don't finish reading The Tower of Cirith Ungol and proclaim "Now that's a ****** good chapter!" I do have some more examples but I think they are more suitable for the movies thread.
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Old 06-19-2004, 12:54 AM   #5
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Like are you meaning that in a way Tolkien was maybe sending us an ecrypted message through the book that in our society we need to mind our manners?

And then are you asking if Tolkien fans tend to be polite people who do mind our manners, thus living out the professors wish?

Well that is a hard question because the LOTR fans and Tolkien fans are a very diverse group of people. I have met many very nice people, but then their has always been the bad apple in the group. Now personally I guess you could say that the book and the world of ME has most definitely made me think, but I don't really think that it has effected my manners, because I always have been a very polite person during the entire course of my life.

Have I taken this topic completely off topic? Or do I just don't get what it's about?
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Old 06-19-2004, 12:09 PM   #6
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I think you started the translation nicely. Yes, that is the sort of thing I think Tolkien was driving at; but I think it goes higher and deeper than politeness (although courtesy is certainly a part of it.)

So what else is involved? In a sense that's what I'm asking, and I put this in this particular forum because I wanted the perspective of people who are newer to the legendarium than all those "grizzled old veterans" who hang out in the Books forum.

What do you see that Tolkien *did* get across with his mythology? How did he succeed? Did he change us in any way? Did he influence us? Did he make us think?

Are we missing anything? Do we see that some seem to have somehow absorbed Middle-Earth in a way that others haven't? How **DO** people absorb Middle-Earth and what effect does it have?

And once we get those answers, does it look like Tolkien succeeded in making his dream come true?

He jokingly said "my crest is long since fallen", but was he judging the effects too early?
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Old 06-20-2004, 10:13 PM   #7
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I will attempt to explain my thoughts thoroughly, but if I confuse anyone, please inform me and I will happily attempt to elaborate.

Alright. For starters, the language (The Common Tongue, at any rate. Elvish is an entirely different, yet lovely story) Tolkien uses, a sort of retro-modern- Shakespeare type (and the confusion begins, sorry) is as great, vast, full, clear, fair, elusive, beautiful, steeped in poetry, majestic, and splendorous (er... Is that a word? Ah well, I'm using it) as anything ever written. It sets the tone for the story, a lingual backdrop that Tolkien obviously spent much time on.

It is this language that I see reflected most often, in fans and others. The crystaline flow of the words that seemed to flow so ceaslessly from Tolkien's pen inspires people. Me being one of many that I know.

When the characters speak, they don't simply tell what they are doing, they really TELL you what they are doing:

Quote:
" Perilous indeed," said Aragorn, "fair and perilous, but only evil may fear it, or those who bring some evil with them."
The esteemed ranger is speaking of Lothlorien, and I think the land is described perfectly in this one line.
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Old 06-23-2004, 12:59 AM   #8
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My interest in the books has changed the way that I act, think, and express myself in many ways (I am trying to expand this topic from my earlier post if you get my drift). I think that he was trying to tell us many things about our society in many ways. There are the more common things that are brought up in almost any discussion: The destruction of the environment, the fact that people should doing more, and be doing everything for their fellow man. But I think that we are trying to go deeper than that, deeper into the book and into the more subdued things that Tolkien may have been telling about our society. Now he was a professor, and one of the things that professors have to do is most likely correct papers, and since he was a teacher he most likely observed many habits that he disliked in the work of his students (because teachers just observe many things like that). So he could have been emphasizing things like modern societys lack of fine language skills (by his use of very poetic language), and of manners and or violence in the media (by his use of not telling us every detail of a disturbing scene).

Now that I think of it, this could very much relate to his career in teaching, because one of the goals of almost every teacher is to change the lives of their students, so he could have, very possibly, been trying to change the lives of his readers by subconsciously sneaking in his own observances on habits in our culture, and telling us (subconsciously again) how to effect our culture by mildly changing the way we act (manners, language, etc.). Now this is getting very deep, and I dont really know where this discussion will go, but I would love to see even more observances on this topic.
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Old 06-24-2004, 06:39 PM   #9
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Yes, the language in the books is a lovely, pure thing. After reading them, I became accustomed to using different words and types of speech when I wrote reports or posted here on the Downs. I agree with Gorwingel's thoughts about the teacher aspect of things; professors teach their students how to use different language styles and techniques. In a way, Tolkien did the same thing because it seems that most readers have subconsciously changed their way of writing after they have finished reading the books.
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Old 06-25-2004, 06:38 AM   #10
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See this post for some Websters definitions that might prove helpful.
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Old 06-27-2004, 02:04 PM   #11
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I think that Tolkien gives us a model of nobility to strive after, whereas much modern literature fairly relishes the gross! (At least that is my impression, after having read the books my son had to read for highschool...)
Quote:
"It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts"
says Strider to the hobbits about the tale of Tinuviel. I think it is just this effect Tolkien's works have on the reader: it lifts up the heart .
I have always preferred this kind of literature, but never found anything that satisfied me so completely until I came across Tolkien.
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Old 06-27-2004, 08:33 PM   #12
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Excellent point, Guinevere, and very well put.

"Fair, sad, and uplifting..." Yes, a good description of it all...
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Old 06-28-2004, 08:01 PM   #13
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Gorwingel wrote:
Quote:
he could have, very possibly, been trying to change the lives of his readers by subconsciously sneaking in his own observances on habits in our culture, and telling us (subconsciously again) how to effect our culture by mildly changing the way we act (manners, language, etc.).
Very intriguing; who agrees?

Has it worked on you?
On other Tolkien enthusiasts that you know?
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Old 06-29-2004, 07:36 AM   #14
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I'm not sure that he was deliberately intending to affect people in this way. Regardless, he has affected me in this way! JRRT didn't expect the book to have such a huge influence as it has. It was almost condescending (perhaps that's the wrong word) of him to write the book this way. It was as if he was saying "This is what I like and what I think is good, you probably won't like it but I don't care because you're wrong."

That's probably quite harsh on Tolkien but I was able to say that because it rings true to my sentiments, so I would applaud him for thinking that way.
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Old 07-12-2016, 06:28 PM   #15
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Silmaril

My personal response to this (very old) thread would be in a similar vein to something I have written recently elsewhere.
I actually rediscovered this thread (which predates my joining of the Downs!) by trawling through the old archives in the Mirth forum and found a reference to it--which is basically right up my alley.

In response to the original question, although I think that "high, purged of the gross" is something that I specifically strive for, at least in some parts of my life, and although I definitely would attribute some of this to Tolkien's influence, I do NOT think that this is necessarily a fandom-wide response.

For one thing, you have only to delve into a fanfiction archive to realise that either "high, purged of the gross" means different things to different people, or it isn't a goal of a number of Tolkien's fans: and we're not talking just about moviegoers here. We're talking about Silmarillion fanfiction from people who have clearly spent as much time on the HoME as I just did in the archives of this forum. That is not to say that fanfiction is written by bad people, but there is ample evidence that aiming for any sort of moral height is not to be found in this significant, invested part of the fan community, and a lot of the time their work may be spent putting elements of the gross back into the story.

As for the Barrow-downs, while I do think we have our own distinct culture that aims for a version of Highness (and our sternness regarding the Off-Topic could be considered a self-purgation of a type of self-defined grossness), I'm not sure whether it's safe to say that we necessarily take this to heart in day-to-day life. It's probably not fair to define anyone's life by the ebullience expressed at a BDer moot, but it's definitely true that a high stateliness is not the first mode expressed at one. Actually, that makes me wonder if it's even fair for me to say that "high, purged of the gross" is something I can be said to aim for in my own life, since one of my favourite BDer Moot activities is shocking people with just how much more irreverent I can be in real life than online.

My chief response to that self-generated line of thinking is that the key word in this phrase of Tolkien's is "purged." After all, he isn't saying that his characters exist in a world that doesn't include the gross, but that he is writing a tale that purges this element from the telling. It is an aesthetic decision to remove this, an aesthetic decision I am inclined to appreciate and to at least aim for in written discourse... but I don't know that it informs my non-written life as much as I would want.

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Old 07-13-2016, 08:08 AM   #16
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Pipe Tolkien well aware of the 'gross'

Thanks for restarting this thread, Formendacil!

Tolkien was, of course, well aware of the 'gross' parts of the time he lived in, including how badly people behaved towards each other, from among other things his military service in the First World War, including in the Battle of the Somme.

He alluded to this in letters to his son Christopher, then serving in the RAF in the Second World War. In a letter to him of 30th April 1944, Letter 64 of the published Letters, he said that he first began to write the H.[istory] of the Gnomes[Noldor] in army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones. In another, Letter 66, dated 6th May, he said that lots of the early parts and the languages of Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes were done in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.
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Old 07-16-2016, 02:55 PM   #17
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Quote:
originally posted by Formendacil:
We're talking about Silmarillion fanfiction from people who have clearly spent as much time on the HoME as I just did in the archives of this forum. That is not to say that fanfiction is written by bad people, but there is ample evidence that aiming for any sort of moral height is not to be found in this significant, invested part of the fan community, and a lot of the time their work may be spent putting elements of the gross back into the story.
Indeed!!

with reference to Gorwingels post # 8:

Quote:
he could have, very possibly, been trying to change the lives of his readers by subconsciously sneaking in his own observances on habits in our culture, and telling us (subconsciously again) how to effect our culture by mildly changing the way we act (manners, language, etc.).
I think there might indeed have been a desire to influence his readers, going back to the youthful enthusiastic ideas of the "TCBS" before WWI. Tolkien and his friends talked about what was wrong with the world and how their creative efforts would change it. Their goals were in essence to restore the recognition of truth and real beauty to a world they felt had lost sight of them.

His friend G.B.Smith wrote in a very moving letter, right before he was killed in the war:

Quote:
My dear John Ronald... my chief consolation is that, if I am scuppered to-night - I am off on duty in a few minutes - there will still be left a member of the great TCBS to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon...... May God bless you, my dear John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.
The Lost Tales, and then The Silmarillion, were never published in Tolkiens lifetime, but in the long years it took to write, The Lord of the Rings deepened from "the new hobbit story" into something he wrote about in 1971:

from letter #328
Quote:
From letter #328
Looking back on the wholly unexpected things that have followed its publication - beginning at once with the appearance of Vol. I - I feel as if an ever darkening sky over our present world had been suddenly pierced, the clouds rolled back, and an almost forgotten sunlight had poured down again.
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Old 07-16-2016, 05:00 PM   #18
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The terms "High" here have a great many meanings.

To begin with, you need to learn (as far as what Tolkien meant by these terms), about the Theology of Boethius, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi (as just a few).

And in how the term applied to Chivalric Romance, where there was a distinction between different emotions, and whether they were applied to purely "Spiritual" or to "Physical" aspects of the world.

As to whether Tolkien Fandom "buys into" those things....

Well, that very much depends upon what you mean by "buying into."

If we are talking about interpretations of events within Middle-earth, then it is an absolute necessity to know what Tolkien meant by these terms.

As there is a difference between internal and external views regarding Middle-earth.

I agree with next to nothing that Tolkien believed about the Real World (The world that both he and I inhabit, as well as the readers of his works inhabit).

But that is irrelevant when dealing with the beliefs as they relate to the Internal Aspects of Middle-earth.

Because as Tolkien points out in MANY different places, Middle-earth has a Metaphysics, an Ontology, and a Theology that is distinct from our world, even if based upon it. So we might take, as a basis, the foundations of our Physical Laws as a starting point for the operation of Middle-earth. But within Middle-earth these Laws have distinct divergences from our world.

Thus we need to know what is meant by the "High" and the "Low" as it applies to both our world (where these are Subjective reference frames), and internal to Middle-earth (where "High" and "Low" are Objective reference frames).

But obviously this is a very deep subject.

This is why I tend to make a primary issue out of the Metaphysical, Ontological, and Theological Assumptions one has about Middle-earth.

Because these will create a framework that will provide answers for all other questions that might be asked about Middle-earth. And with a Consistent, Coherent Metaphysics, these answers will contain no contradictions.


Edit: The "High" and "Low" aspects of Middle-earth also reveal characteristics of the operation of Physiognomy within Middle-earth.

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