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Old 03-08-2003, 03:50 AM   #1
davem
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Sting 'Its about death, the inevitability of death'

That was Tolkien's thought on what LotR is about, given in a BBC interview. Does everyone agree? Or do we think Tolkien was mistaken about his work? Maybe we ignore that aspect, & read it as an escape.
This really ties in with his essay on Beowulf, that its about men fighting 'the Long Defeat' (as Galadriel put it), till the inevitable end, death (or 'till the Dragon comes' in Tolkien's phrase).
I don't want to make this initial post too long, as I'd rather just use it to spark off a discussion - I'm not too sure of my own feelings.
Do we read LotR from a position of 'knowing better' than the characters, if we're religious, that is, or do we respond to their plight - 'Hope without guarantees'. Just do what's right, because its right, without certainty of victory. Is there some part of us that feels that Tolkien was right, that in this world all we can do is 'Fight the Long Defeat, till the Dragon comes'. Put aside Tolkien's own faith for a moment - what we respond to isn't Tolkien's own beliefs, but to the world he created. Is it that simple philosophy, 'Do what's right, simply because its right, each moment, in each thing. Forget trying to bring about some great victory over 'Evil', because the danger in that is that you start thinking 'The end justifies the means'.
Death is inevitable, & there's no (humanly achievable) victory in this world, only immediate choices between doing what's right & what's wrong.
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Old 03-08-2003, 07:30 AM   #2
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I might post my thoughts later on today, should time allow it.

I don't know exactly what was said on the BBC broadcast, but what you're saying seems to be supported by this quote from the The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien in which Tolkien was denying some reader that had mistakenly labelled Gandalf as Jesus (or Eru incarnate). It is definitely one of his concerns, but not necessarily the only one:

Quote:
Here I am only concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees.
[ March 08, 2003: Message edited by: Legolas ]
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Old 03-08-2003, 07:32 AM   #3
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This reminds me of how Nordic Tolkien's mythos is. Strip away his religious background (if possible), 20th century veneer, and you have at the core the Nordic approach to life - and death. Very astute, davem.

One cannot, however, strip away his religious background and 20th century sensibilities in reality, only in theory. So I would say that the three aspects that I've picked out here inform each other, and that Tolkien is right. It's all about death and dying well, doing what's right WITHOUT hope, because there is no better way. But no, it's not ONLY all about that. There's so much more, and it's all integrated so well, which is why it draws us in...

I'm short of time or I'd explain myself better.
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Old 03-08-2003, 08:47 AM   #4
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I was struck, reading Verlyn Flieger's Splintered Light, by the way she brought forward Tolkien's own sense of religious doubt, which would sometimes assail him. So for Tolkien himself, this idea of fighting on, doing what's right, simply because its right, must have been what got him through some very difficult times. Perhaps 'hope without guarantees' is the point. Perhaps he held to his Catholicism, not because he ALWAYS believed it, but because he felt that was the RIGHT thing to do, whether it was true or not, whether he would be 'saved' or not.
Its always struck me, the way the two characters, Saruman & Denethor, who place most emphasis on winning as the be all & end all are the ones destroyed by that desire. Saruman, for whom victory becomes so important that in the end he doesn't care which side wins, as long as he's on the winning side, & Denethor, who cannot bear to live once his guarantee of victory seems to have been taken away.
On the other side there's Frodo, who does what's right (sparing Gollum), when from the point of view of the quest, that's the most dangerous course.
So, I think Tolkien is saying that, Death is unavoidable, Eru's 'gift'. There's no way to escape death. Whatever may or may not come after. So what matters is how you live, doing good, because its what we should do, what, as human beings we're required to do (by the simple fact of our humanity, whether there's Anyone or Anything 'out there' or not). But in the end, death, as Tolkien said, is inevitable. I actually think it is the core of the book ('someone has to give them up, so that others may keep them').
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Old 03-08-2003, 12:21 PM   #5
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I am not entirely sure about Saruman, but I believe what got Denethor in the end was despair, which nicely corresponds to Tolkien's preoccupation with death and with hope.
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Old 03-08-2003, 01:15 PM   #6
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The illustration that mosts strikes me in relation to "hope without guarantees" and "the end justifies the means" is Sam's decision at Cirith Ungol to go back for Frodo rather than continue on alone. He knew his place was beside his master, and he returned for Frodo because he felt in his heart that was the right thing for him to do (despite his doubts), even though the big picture perspective indicated otherwise. To Sam, a betrayal of Frodo would have been a betrayal of the cause for which Frodo had suffered. Sam's actions were quite the opposite of Saruman's in that Sam chose to make the "right" choice according to the situation at hand rather than winning at any cost in the grand scheme of things. Sam's hope in a (pretty much) hopeless circumstance was rewarded. Just one illustration of the way that theme played out in Tolkien's work.

Just a few thoughts, rather off the cuff. ::Mimosa tosses her tuppence in:: [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ March 08, 2003: Message edited by: Mimosa Took ]
 
Old 03-08-2003, 11:26 PM   #7
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Here is a slight twist on the matter, turned by Tolkien himself in Letters #86:
Quote:
The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult; Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race 'doomed' not to leave it.
and #203:
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But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!
and, #207:
Quote:
Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the 'message' was the hideous peril of confusing true 'immortality' with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call 'death' the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.
I don't know what "faineant" means (and it should have an accent above the e), but it must be a nonessential adjective.

All grammatical nonessentials aside [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] there is a lot here with which to work.

(1) What, exactly, is "the hideous peril"?

(2) Can we infer Tolkien's feelings about his own death? If so, what were they?

[This is more a thesis statement and not an answer to the above question] Tolkien is saying that Death is not to be feared, and that the Enemy (Melkor? Sauron? I can't recall right now & don't want to spend the time looking it up) is reponsible for creating that fear. I am subsituting "fear" for confusion because fear is the outcome.

This would account for the somewhat inscrutable sadness of the Elves and their attempts to control (read "usurp Iluvatar's role") reality by immersion into the past and manipulating events. Tolkien has stated that the Elves' inevitable plight was the result of their trying to create/control.

This also accounts for the downfall of Numenor. Why should one be greedy for anything if one has not the fear of Death? Especially if one could see it in the true light of Iluvatar's intentions in giving it to Men.

I'll say just one more thing and then I'll end.

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I first apprehended what Tolkien was saying during the part of the creation when Iluvatar gave Death to Men. I was listening to The Silmarillion in my car, going east on Johnson Drive about 4:00 in the afternoon. It simply stopped time in my mind for awhile. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] Much was revealed and instantly resolved. And though my powers of articulation are unequal to the task of expounding with clarity, there is a paradox in that the Elves, immortals, try to stop Time, thus dooming themselves to a perpetual melancholic perception while Men (not those who see Death in its proper light such as Aragorn) end up killing and defaming life out of fear of Death. This is an expansion of the first quote above.

If someone has been able to tease out what I am trying to say there, I'd be mighty glad to hear it!

Peace, Love ...
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Old 03-10-2003, 04:06 AM   #8
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I think, Dininziliel, that's very profound, though, like you, I struggle with my own understanding of Tolkien's thought's on Death. Its a subject which is not really explored - maybe readers find it morbid. But I think his thoughts on Death, his understanding of it, are central to the man's writings. After all, to lose both parents at such an early age, & then two out of your three closest friends in war, must affect you profoundly. How do you hold on to your faith in God in the face of such things?On one level, maybe its possible to view the tone/mood of the whole Legendarium in that light. Not so much Death in itself, but how we respond to it.
In one of Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books the central character asks 'What's a good answer to Death?'. If we think about the issue at all, that's the central question. Not how to avoid it, but how to deal with it, live with the fact. Tolkien's answer to death seems to be, do the right (ie, the merciful, compassionate) thing in every circumstance. In the Barrow, Frodo could escape, leaving his friends, but he doesn't, he puts the whole quest, the safety of the whole world, at risk, because an act of compassion is, for Tolkien, superior. Then, he spares Gollum, not for the stupid, insulting reason that the movie makers give (Frodo saying 'I need to know he can be saved' or whatever), which is pure selfishness, but as an act of mercy, inspired by pity. At the end he even tries to spare Saruman.
We are alone in a dark world, living in a little circle of light (I'm going with Tolkien's ideas in the Beowulf essay), waiting for the 'Dragon' (death), & all we have is our own eqivalent of Galadriel's glass - 'Hope without guarantees'. Doing the merciful, compassionate, thing is 'fighting the long defeat'. And it seems to me that Tolkien is saying that's all we can do, & more, that that's required of us, by the fact of our humanity, whether there's anything else beyond this life or not.
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Old 03-10-2003, 06:20 PM   #9
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Davem writes: [QUOTE] Then, he spares Gollum, not for the stupid, insulting reason that the movie makers give (Frodo saying 'I need to know he can be saved' or whatever), which is pure selfishness, but as an act of mercy, inspired by pity. At the end he even tries to spare Saruman.
We are alone in a dark world, living in a little circle of light (I'm going with Tolkien's ideas in the Beowulf essay), waiting for the 'Dragon' (death), & all we have is our own eqivalent of Galadriel's glass - 'Hope without guarantees'. Doing the merciful, compassionate, thing is 'fighting the long defeat'. And it seems to me that Tolkien is saying that's all we can do, & more, that that's required of us, by the fact of our humanity, whether there's anything else beyond this life or not. /QUOTE]

I was moved by your expression. I agree with your tack on both movie and book. It struck me the other night that, along with Gimli, Frodo probably gets the shortest shrift from "fan" attention of all the characters in LotR.

I, too, wish more Tolkien "fans" would deal with the more uncomfortable aspects--how he weaves the foundational theme throughout the tales and how they rest upon it. I believe that this is what calls to most of us who have continued to love Tolkien's writings from childhood, and why his books are among the worldly things we turn to in order to understand the unworldly realities with which we struggle.

Hopefully, there will be other contributions to this thread. I, for one, feel a need to share this particular exploration with others.

[ March 10, 2003: Message edited by: dininziliel ]
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Old 03-10-2003, 08:37 PM   #10
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As one whose faith harmonizes reasonably closely with Tolkien's, one thing that I see is that humans - in this life (presuming an acceptance of the above mentioned faith) - are both elves and men. We have received the gift of Eru to Men: we shall all die. We have also received the gift of the Elves (after a fashion): we shall continue to exist, always. This is a strange tension for me. And I think Tolkien did us a wonderful service in evoking the two different realities within one cosmos by separating them out and comparing them, not in thesis form (thank the gods), but in story. What is it like, what does it mean, what are the stumbling blocks of the Gift to Man? of the Gift to the Elder Children? It is no easy thing to be human; to be Elven.
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Old 03-11-2003, 03:19 AM   #11
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Yes, Littlemanpoet, but, the Elves are a problem. On the one hand, they're the closest to nature, with the strongest love of the natural world, of any of Tolkien's races, but at the same time, in their essential nature, they're the mostun-natural, in that they don't die. Everything else, including the Stars which they most love, 'dies', ie, at some point ceases to exist.
In his essay 'On Fairy Stories' Tolien speculates that the tales of the Elves will be full of the 'escape from Deathlessness'. Yet, the Elves make the Three Rings in order to 'preserve' (in one of his letters he even uses the word 'embalm') the natural world in some kind of state of 'perfection'. But in what sense is a frozen, embalmed, perfection 'natural'?
The Undying Lands are the most 'unnatural' of all places. In nature birth, growth, mauturity & death, evolution from state to state, is the natural process. In Tolkien's Legendarium Death isn't even a 'punishment', its a 'gift'.
So in the Elves, the race most out of step with 'nature' are most in love with it, or maybe it would be truer to say they have the greatest desire for it. Their very desire for natural beauty seperates them from a true relationship with it. On the other hand, Humans, who are part of the natural process, in that we do, like all other things, die, don't have that same deep desire for the natural world. For Tolkien, we're drawn away, towards some other 'reality', 'beyond the circles of the world'. Our destiny doesn't lie within the world, yet, we seek to avoid death, as do the Elves, but for different reasons. We seek to avoid our own death, the Elves seek to avoid the death of other things.
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Old 03-11-2003, 05:49 AM   #12
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I agree with Davem that the elves cause a problem given their undying nature. even when they die, they don't really leave the world, they just get "confined to quarters." If one is to draw religious inferences into Lord Of The Rings, I believe that Elves should be akin to Angels. After all, Elrond and Galadriel are two of the most powerful actors behind the scenes, and angels are supposed to be God's messengers to earth, to tell people what to say an do, if you believe in christianity.
Who's to say that the Elrond and Galadriel weren't meant to remain in Middle Earth to guide Frodo and the rest of Middle Earth so that Sauron would be defeated?
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Old 03-11-2003, 01:31 PM   #13
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tifo_gcs: Welcome to the Downs. Enjoy your deadness. I also think that Tolkien's Elves are akin to angels, but for additional reasons beside the ones you pointed out. Check out the thread on Linguistic puns for more on that.

I do not think, however, that Elrond and Galadriel had special assignments, per se, from the Valar, to take care of Frodo and the Fellowship. Therein lies a great difference between angels and Tolkien's Elves: angels are strictly messengers of God, or those who have rebelled, etc. Elves, by contrast, are created to live in the world, as do humans, and are meant to interact, as davem says, with the natural world.

davem: I see your point about Elves being the most unnatural creatures.

(although even Elves age and eventually 'burn out', so to speak, according to the Tolkien mythos - by 'burn out' I man that their bodies are no longer sufficient to contain their spirits; this is something I have read in Tolkien, somewhere.)

Be that as it may, I must quibble on a minor point. This 'embalming' Tolkien speaks of, is, to the Fellowship of the Ring, an amazingly beautiful thing. Consider. Galadriel is the artist of this embalming, and being the exquisitely creative Elf that she is, she is able to not merely preserve the nature of Lorien, but (Tolkien represents it) as a thing of surpassing beauty that transcends itself in ways only Galadriel could do.

Regarding The Undying Lands, it must be remembered that Tolkien has presented a mythos. It is somewhat presumptuous of you, my friend, to label the Undying Lands as not natural because they don't follow the rules that govern nature in OUR world. Within the structure and organism that Tolkien created, the Undying Lands conform to a naturalness bequeathed to them by Eru and the Valar. It is a different nature, but a nature nonetheless. As I said, I quibble. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Maybe humans as a group don't have that same desire for the natural world as do the Elves, but I don't think Tolkien would have been capable of writing it into his mythos unless he himself had such a keen desire. I for one am rather convinced that through his mythos he engendered quite a powerful desire for the natural world in me.

What I'm getting at, though, is that Elves' spirits do outlive their bodies. They will not die. So it is with humans, if you accept certain faith statements. This prospect is just as difficult to comprehend as is its opposite, that which atheists must confront.
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Old 03-12-2003, 02:58 AM   #14
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I think that essentially Tolkien was writing about life, because doesn't life almost include death? You can't really have lived if you don't die. I'm not that well learned in Tolkien, (I've read The Hobbit, LOTR, The Silmarillion and another book with his essay on fairytales but thats all) but even though elves don't die I'm sure he says something about an end, when the elves will go back to the earth of which they are a part. Tolkien, to me, goes on about memories and things continuing so I don't think it's about 'the inevibility of death' only time and change.
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Old 03-12-2003, 03:19 AM   #15
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littlemanpoet: Consider that all events are chains that are meant to be. In that case, Elrond and Galdriel may have been manipulated into certain circumstances. The wise cannot see all ends, but they plan for many contingencies. I conceed that I'm losing the argument, though.
However, following the christian ethos, angels also interact with humans, however only at times of great importance, such as the birth of Jesus.
Glinglefariy: I think that with Tolkien's background in the trenches, his writing may well have been a form of catharsis. Coming back from the wars, and having preserved the world, but still seeing it changed. The longing for days of innocence and old friends, etc. That's the entire point with the return to the Shire. It's about the pain that ultimately exists in life, as things pass, but it also tells you that life will go on.
In that way, in that it reflects real life, LOTR is more akin to literature than some works that my English teacher considers literature
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Old 03-12-2003, 03:30 AM   #16
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I'm a bit uncertain about this, LMP, but I'm not sure that the Elves do continue in a spiritual form, after their physical forms have 'disipated'. You're into the whole Fea/Hroa issue (cf the Athrabeth). As I understand it, the Elves still retain a physical nature, but it fades to become all but intangible.
I would have said the Undying Lands are 'outside' the natural flow of time. Any unchanging state of being is against the nature of our space-time reality.
I cannot see this Elvish 'embalming' as amazingly beautiful, though. You can't 'embalm' living things. I think increasingly the natural world which they loved (or desired) 'got away' from them. They found they had less & less power to control it. The Three Rings were their last shot, & it brought only disaster, bringing both themselves & the whole of Arda to the brink of disaster. Would you really want to live in Galadriel's 'embalmed' world? Really? I don't mean would you like to visit it, spend time there, I mean live out your existence in that frozen, unchanging state? Even Galadriel herself realises, in rejecting the One Ring, which would have given her the power to 'embalm' the whole world, that such an approach to life is wrong.
Finally, & I can only refer you to the Athrabeth in 'Morgoth's Ring, the Elvish love of the natural world is inevitably different & deeper than our human capacity, because it's part of Eru's gift to men that our ultimate destiny lies outside Arda, whereas Elvish destiny is bound within the limits of Arda. They can never leave the circles of the world. Men can never stay within Arda, not forever. We have a sense of belonging 'elsewhere', in some other place or state, but the Elves don't. They cannot concieve an existence beyond Arda, We cannot concive an existence which doesn't include an 'extra-Ardan' dimension. As it says in the Silmarillion, only men are not bound by the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else - ie, men have a destiny outwith Arda, all other races' destiny is bound within Arda.
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Old 03-12-2003, 05:00 AM   #17
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I may be splitting hairs here, but the one ring doesn't have the power to elbalm anything but its owner, whom it embalms in a hideous manner (for proof, see Gollum), instead it has the power to destroy everything.
And Galadriel's elbalmed world isn't a bad place to live in, not until the elves leave it, at which point it becomes about as dead as any other 'ordinary' forest. The elves do seem to bring a special kind of lilfe to something that otherwise would seems plain and boring. Bilbo didn't mind living out his days in Rivendell.
But ultimately, for all their love of Middle-Earth, all Elves grow tired of it and leave it for the shores of the undying land, where everything is embalmed and unchanged
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Old 03-12-2003, 07:15 AM   #18
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I think we're in danger of using this word "embalmed", too much, and perhaps in a sense that Tolkien did not intend. Its connotations have "mummy" all over them. Clearly, we don't mean that, but the connotation remains. When we speak of Lorien and Rivendell embalmed, what we mean to say is not something so - chthonic.

Can anyone produce the correct quote in which Tolkien uses 'embalm'? I think it would help our discussion. I would, but I don't have the book.

Quote:
the Elves make the Three Rings in order to 'preserve' (in one of his letters he even uses the word 'embalm') the natural world in some kind of state of 'perfection'.
As tifo gcs says, Elvish preservation it as a much higher level of exquisiteness than anything else in Middle Earth, or our Earth for that matter. Lorien and Rivendell ARE places worth living in. Perhaps old age is necessary (as in Bilbo) to be able to truly be content and not get wanderlust.

I do not quibble with your point that the preservation was doomed to failure. Wrong? Who is to say? Considering that it was fated (Elves do not live outside of fate), rightness or wrongness seems not to the point. What can be learned from it or experienced by it? This question seems more important to me.
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Old 03-12-2003, 08:55 AM   #19
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Quote:
Considering that it was fated (Elves do not live outside of fate), rightness or wrongness seems not to the point.
But those who are fated don´t know to what and so can´t be sure if they do the right or wrong.
Quote:
What can be learned from it or experienced by it?
By the failure of preservation? Maybe that nothing endures forever and that you have to let things go, even that which you love best and thought to last forever.
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Old 03-12-2003, 08:58 AM   #20
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Can't recall the exact reference a the moment - its in one of the letters - Verlyn Flieger quotes it, & as far as I remember, Tolkien does mean it to have a slightly 'negative' connotation. I will try & get the exact quote. The sense I get is that as he got older his views on the Elves' nature became more 'negative', or at least, less idealised than originally. You get the sense from the early works (Book of Lost Tales for instance) that he held the Elves in awe, whereas he moves further away from that as he gets older.
I wonder if his statement that LotR is about the inevitability of Death is actually a criticism of the Elvish tendency to embalming. Without straying into movie forum territory, I have to say while I liked the 'dreamlike' ness of Rivendell & Lorien, I actually found that portrayal as too 'dreamlike' & unnatural, & would have preffered them to be more like 'real' woods. But I think they're are accurate to the books - in other words, I think maybe Tolkien was making a point about the way when you 'magically' embalm or preserve something in a 'perfect' state you can deprive it of its essential nature. Fangorn & the Old Forest are much closer to the way woods should be (including the mystery & Danger). Where do these Elves get off, anyway, deciding what constitutes perfection in nature, & imposing it on things? Do we imagine 'perfect' bugs, fungi, etc in Lorien, or are we looking at a forest that's 'scrubbed clean' of dirt & smells. How 'natural' is Lorien? Haven't the Elves just turned a living eco-system into a museum piece?
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Old 03-12-2003, 09:23 AM   #21
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Quote:
Where do these Elves get off, anyway, deciding what constitutes perfection in nature, & imposing it on things? Do we imagine 'perfect' bugs, fungi, etc in Lorien, or are we looking at a forest that's 'scrubbed clean' of dirt & smells. How 'natural' is Lorien?
Now I see your point.

Quote:
Haven't the Elves just turned a living eco-system into a museum piece?
Perhaps more a temple than a museum? At least, for Lorien. Rivendell, as the last homely house, does not have the same feel of perpetuation as does Lorien.

Although Thranduil's kingdom is in The Hobbit instead of LotR, that realm seems far more 'natural' to me. And so do the Elves traveling through the Shire with whom the hobbits meet up in FotR.

Please pardon me, but having followed this tangent as far as I know how, I've lost the thread of this topic. So, what would you say the perpetuativeness of Lorien and the Last-Homely-Houseness of Rivendell have to do with the inevitability of death?
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Old 03-12-2003, 10:13 AM   #22
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I'm sorry Davem, but I can't quite figure out where you're going with Tolkien's changing view on elves. Please explain.
But I do concur that the movie portrayal of the elves is too dreamlike. It seems to fake, somehow, either the book or my imagination makes Elrond's house seem more wholesome when I read.
However, I think that the elves can take anyhting ordinary and turn it into something elvish, like Galadriel's mirror which is just water that she breathes on. I'm not going to support that with the reaction of people to elves because doing in depth research while at work is just impossible. In short, when elves interact with 'natural' things, they leave a magical touch on them like fingerprints. They don't deprive them of their nature, but they add something extra. At least that's how I see Tolkien's depiction of Elves.
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Old 03-12-2003, 10:46 PM   #23
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Re where Davem is going with the Elves [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] --I think I can help.

Here is the quote from Letters #207:
Quote:
Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the 'message' was the hideous peril of confusing true 'immortality' with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call 'death' the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.
If we can determine what "hideous peril" and "true immortality" are, then we will understand Tolkien's tack on the Elves, Men, ME, and, well ... everything.

Galadriel/Lorien has been much romanticized (in classical sense). Perhaps this was Tolkien's intention in writing Galadriel/Lorien as he did. It provides an illustration of the very things the last several posts have been addressing.

Rivendell/Elrond, described by Tolkien, as wisest & repositor of lore in ME, has been able to see and to accept the natural course of things for a very long time. (This may be arguable in light of his attitude and behavior over Arwen's decision, however.)

Wish we knew more about Thranduil.

Galadriel, given her history, would logically come closer to falling victim to the "hideous peril," but re-chooses her path when she is able to see in a matter of minutes what Elrond has seen for who knows how long. I think this occurs when Frodo offers her the Ring. Not to create an "Elrond v. Galadriel" subthread, but Galadriel had an epiphany; Elrond simply discerned with wisdom. They are fully united and atoned in LotR as the music begun in Silmarillion plays out the notes of Iluvatar's will regarding the Ring and ME.

I think one of the most powerful attractions in LotR and Silmarillion is the melancholic grace of the Elves' acceptance of their inevitable passing from ME--"death." Tolkien employed such genius in evoking our own recognition of this passage without resorting to allegory or thinly veiled finger-wagging. A deep and instant resonance is struck when we read of the Elves' demeanor and mood as they travel to the Grey Havens.

Another anchor for the thread title and discussion of Elves is what Tolkien said in a rather portentous manner in Letters and other sources regarding how the Elves were doomed for attempting to usurp or mimic the power of Iluvatar.

LittleManPoet captured the essence of this thread for me:
Quote:
As one whose faith harmonizes reasonably closely with Tolkien's, one thing that I see is that humans - in this life (presuming an acceptance of the above mentioned faith) - are both elves and men. We have received the gift of Eru to Men: we shall all die. We have also received the gift of the Elves (after a fashion): we shall continue to exist, always. This is a strange tension for me. And I think Tolkien did us a wonderful service in evoking the two different realities within one cosmos by separating them out and comparing them, not in thesis form (thank the gods), but in story. What is it like, what does it mean, what are the stumbling blocks of the Gift to Man? of the Gift to the Elder Children? It is no easy thing to be human; to be Elven.
Haven't we all felt the poignant wish for something never to end or change? Don't we all hold some snapshot of the past or cast a particular mental-emotional construct into a kind of internal floating amber? And haven't we all thought of how wearisome this world is? Isn't this strange tension brought about by confusion and fear about the nature of our existence? The Elves and Men may have gifts or enviable attributes, but they lack the relative peace of mind and seeming sure-footedness enjoyed by hobbits (no pun intended).

Back again, though, to just what is the "hideous peril" and "true 'immortality' "? I'm not saying I know the answer. Those questions just seem to me to be at the heart of Tolkien's tales.

And since I've re-read the opening quote from Letters several times now, it occurs to me to wonder how the death of Aragorn actually does compare with that of a ringwraith's.

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[ March 13, 2003: Message edited by: dininziliel ]
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Old 03-13-2003, 02:49 AM   #24
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So Tolkien gives us the elves and their being trapped in this world as a message that says don't be afraid of death because its better than constantly losing friends/places etc. as you move through life.
(The elves fighting the long defeat in the Silmarillion comes to mind).
In other words, the longer you live, the more you suffer and the less you enjoy life.
And by the way, i find poignancy the biggest/most occuring emotion in life.
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Old 03-13-2003, 03:23 AM   #25
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Well, LMP, I finally found the quote about embalming I wanted. Its from letter 154 to Naomi Mitchison.
''But the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were 'embamlmers'. They wanted to have their cake & eat it; to live in the mortal historical Middle Earth because they had becaome fond of it (& because they there had the advantages of a superior caste) & so tried to stop its change & history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert where they could be artists, & they were burdened with sadness & nostalgic regret''
As I said, they seemed to want to turn the whole of Middle Earth into a sterile museum piece, which would have effectively made the whole of existence into one 'perfect' frozen moment, where nothing could evolve or move on.
What the Elves lack, it seems to me, is a personal experience of death - ie death as something which is of their own nature. They can only relate to 'Life' as a concept. So they seek to 'perfect' it & freeze it.
This leads to the Rings in a way. The One isn't really different to the Three. In effect it is just 'more so'. They all give 'endless serial longevity', its nature controlled & determined by the will of the wielder. I think in (on)the hand of a mortal the effect of an Elven Ring would have been the same as the effect of the One. The Problems of the Elves right from the start were caused by their inability to understand what it is to die, to lose something permanently - The loss of the Silmarils, of the Trees, of their power & influence, their superiorty over other races. For them, everything should be permanent & unchanging - unless they will it to be different. Unavoidable, inevitable loss is alien to them. Its perhaps the lesson they have to learn.
But at the end of the Third Age it seems some of them have realised what Death actually means, that its of the nature of Arda. Perhaps the 'gift' of Death is not just hard for men to accept, maybe its hardest of all for the Elves, who don't (naturally) experience it personally, but who experience it in everything around them. It seperates & alientes them from what they most love - Arda - & gives them only two options - to leave it, which can only be heartbreaking (are there any Mallorns in the Undying Lands?), or to stay & 'Fade' to ineffectual 'ghosts'. As Tolkien says 'death' is a gift which , as time wears, even the Powers shall envy.
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Old 03-13-2003, 04:28 AM   #26
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I follow your argument, but in that case it would seem that the elves under Gil-galad joined into alliance with men to prevent Sauron from ruining their little "Middle Earth snapshot." In that case, why do they not then resume the fight in the third age? Is it because they have given up trying to hold onto Middle Earth already?
And the view of the elves which you present strikes me as almost too cynical. They are naive when it comes to losing anything yes, but it seems to me that the elves in the house of Elrond spend as much time wishing they were back across the sea with all the sinnging of songs from the Blessed Realm. I contend that it comes down to wanting what you cannot have. The elves were immortals put in a world where everything else was mortal. The majority of them were led out by the Valar, taken to a land where everything was like them, pretty much unchanging. And remembering Midle Earth where things were different, they always wanted to back, and did so when they got the chance, because different is always intrigueing (just can't spell that). But then they try it and it brings them nothing but trouble and sorrow. They find out that the grass isn't quite as green as they thought, until at the end, they want to escape again.
Note that as Sauron's power rises, the elves leave for the west in increasing numbers, and I don't think they feel it's that heartbreaking. Why? because if they wanted to stay, they would have fought Sauron. Being immortal in some ways, I do not see why they should have feared him. He had already been defeated once. So they leave because they cannot be bothered with Middle Earth anymore, all but a few, who like Elrond and Galadriel decide that they still have some responsibility for what happens in Middle Earth, and try to fight Sauron.
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Old 03-13-2003, 08:38 AM   #27
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Well, as far as the Elves feeling that leaving Middle earth wasn't really heartbreaking, I'm not sure. I think Galadriel's great struggle against taking the Ring was precisely down to her desire to remain in Middle Earth, in her position of wisdom & authority. After all, who would she be in Aman? Just another Elf. (Or am I being cynical again ? [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] ) Seriously, though. The Elves had a deep love for Arda, that's beyond question, but you have to wonder to what extent it was based on a true understanding of Arda & its nature & to what extent they loved what they made Arda into. They seem to have difficulty just leaving the natural world alone, of not 'doing something' to it, even though their motivation seems to have been to 'improve' it.
Other races seem to have had a more 'utilitarian' approach to their relationship with the natural world. Whereas for the Elves it seems their prime motivation was to turn the whole of Arda into a work of art.
I do think that by the end of the Third age most of the Elves had realised that they were out of place in Middle Earth, & that they had no option but to leave. As for the Elves singing their hymns & songs about Aman, I wonder whether their real desire wasn't to return there, but rather to make Middle Earth a carbon (or idealised) copy of Aman, an Aman where they would be in charge rather than the Valar. After all, wasn't that part of what drove the Noldor to return to Middle Earth?
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Old 03-13-2003, 09:23 AM   #28
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I think you're wrong about Galadriel and her meeting with the ring. She knows that the time of men approaches, so she has a choice, to use the ring and become the female Sauron, or to say no to the ring and be able to go back to the West. I think she realized that she had screwed up in the rebellion against the valar, but that she wanted to go back. Ultimately all elves want to go back across the sea (except Arwen and Luthien).
I still think that they went out of spite towards the Valar more than anything else. But to close that discussion it will require combing the Silmarillion with a comb, and I haven't read it for a while [img]smilies/frown.gif[/img]
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Old 03-13-2003, 02:13 PM   #29
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Very powerful and thought provoking, everyone.

Quote:
Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the 'message' was the hideous peril of confusing true 'immortality' with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call 'death' the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.
dininziliel:
Quote:
If we can determine what "hideous peril" and "true immortality" are, then we will understand Tolkien's tack on the Elves, Men, ME, and, well ... everything.
True immortality versus limitless serial longevity. Limitless serial longevity shakes me to my core like nothing else. It is the void. Trust me. I have thought long and hard about this, trying to shake it out of my mind; more often, trying to shake my mind off of it. :P True immortality is, to use a Christian metaphor/definition, eternal life; a life that is not bound by time, but is a constant present tense having complete fulfillment and contentment by virtue of the sustainment of Eru. We can’t even comprehend it, but it has to be better than limitless serial longevity (the stuff of which insanity is made).

So the hideous peril could be, in my point of view, anything from insanity to being cast into the void, and every nightmarish prospect inbetween. Is this what the Elves had to look forward to? I envy them not.

Quote:
Galadriel had an epiphany; Elrond simply discerned with wisdom.
This is a very interesting point. Could it be that Elrond had gained this wisdom, which Galadriel had not, up to this point, because he was Half-Elven, and had to choose his destiny?

Quote:
…it occurs to me to wonder how the death of Aragorn actually does compare with that of a ringwraith's.
The Ringwraiths sought to escape death and ended up with a serial longevity limited only by the longevity of the Ring. Aragorn accepted his death as a gift, and received it well.

Tolkien said:
Quote:
But the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were 'embalmers'. They wanted to have their cake & eat it; to live in the mortal historical Middle Earth because they had become fond of it (& because they there had the advantages of a superior caste) & so tried to stop its change & history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert where they could be artists, & they were burdened with sadness & nostalgic regret.
This strikes me as rather appropo of Western modernism. At the risk of creating a huge tangent on this thread, do you suppose Tolkien was making such an unintentional commentary regarding modernism? Think of Eliot’s Wasteland, for example.

davem:
Quote:
What the Elves lack […] is a personal experience of death [according to] their own nature. The One [Ring] isn't really different [from] the Three […] just 'more so'. They all give 'endless serial longevity' […]
I would have to agree that there is a qualitative difference as well as the quantitative one about which you speak. The One Ring was designed to be used to break wills, whereas the Elves’s Three were designed to bend wills; a corollary to that: this bending of wills as good or evil was dependent upon the wielder, whereas with the Ring, any breaking of wills was evil. (I had better account for Frodo’s use of the Ring to bind Gollum to his oath: Gollum chose freely to be so bound; Frodo didn’t bend or break his will to it.)

Quote:
The Problems of the Elves right from the start were caused by their inability to understand what it is to die…
I think it’s simpler than that: their problems were caused by their inability to – die.

Warning! Tangent! Which brings to my mind the unique situation of the Half-Elves: Luthien, Elrond, and Arwen. By being half human and half elven, they have a unique place compared to their elven kindred: the ability to choose their fate. This seems especially important in terms of “it’s all about the inevitability of death”, but I don’t have time to go into it right now.

Davem:
Quote:
Unavoidable, inevitable loss is alien to them. It’s perhaps the lesson they have to learn.
Yes.

Davem:
Quote:
Perhaps the 'gift' of Death is […] hardest […] for the Elves […] who experience it in everything around them. It separates & alienates them from what they most love – Arda
Yes.

Quote:
& gives them only two options - to leave [Arda], which can only be heartbreaking (are there any Mallorns in the Undying Lands?), or to stay & 'Fade' to ineffectual 'ghosts'.
A moving and haunting way to put it, davem.

Tifo gcs:

I agree with most of what you say, Tifo. Just a couple comments:

Quote:
The majority of [the Elves] were led out by the Valar, taken to a land where everything was like them, pretty much unchanging.
It’s more complicated than that. There were the Elves of the Light, and the Moriquendi. Most Elves never made it as far west as Beleriand, due to the machinations of Morgoth, as well as their love of Middle Earth. Only three houses made it to Beleriand, and of those, perhaps half got as far as Tol Eressea. Thus, most Elves actually never saw the light of the Trees. This seems to be important to me, in terms of the inevitability of death for Middle Earth. For there are possible fates for Elves that do not sail west: first, to fade as has been described; but second, as Tolkien said, to become a place-bound, quaint (I can’t think of his word so I must substitute) gnome-like creature that has become so tied to nature and its natural setting that it has forgotten what it was. Deathless, but living such an elemental life that it could hardly be called conscious. Thus, a kind of sleep. Perhaps I’m reading more into Tolkien than he meant, but that’s what his description brings to my mind.

Quote:
[The Elves] always wanted to [go] back, and did so when they got the chance…
Only the majority of the Noldor went back, to fulfill their oath. My sense is that but for Morgoth’s theft of the Silmarils, the Noldor never would have left. The Vanyar and Teleri, and the remnant of the Noldor were content to remain in the West.

Quote:
I do not see why [the Elves who remained in the Third Age] should have feared [Sauron].
The Elves were greatly weakened by the end of the Third Age. Elrond the wise says that Sauron could not be defeated. I do not quibble that the Elves still felt a sense of responsibility, considering that the Noldor were in part responsible for Sauron’s power. (???) Now how did I decide that? I don't know. Heck, I'll leave it and see what kind of reaction I get.
[img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

[ March 14, 2003: Message edited by: littlemanpoet ]
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Old 03-14-2003, 02:12 AM   #30
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I stand corrected about the early movements of the Elves in Middle Earth and the West. Yet it still seems to me that the Elves are destined to go West and leave the shores of Middle Earth. Why else would Tolkien leave the grey havens in existence for so long? Ultimatly, all elves must leave, or the havens would have had no purpose in Lord of the Rings.
And as to fading away, I've always figured that the eternal life the elves have was forever, and that there was no measure of time in the west. So if an elf was diminished and faded, he just lost a bit of his elf luster, as in still immortal, but looking a bit less elvish, or losing stature in the elvish society. Like Galadriel who is a queen in Middle Earth. She is pardoned enough after having refused the one ring and may therefore go back to the west. She says (qouted roughly) "I shall fade(or is it diminish), and go into the waste, and remain Galadriel." My point is that she fades but still has eternal life and her elvish being, but is stripped of all power and prowess
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Old 03-14-2003, 03:28 AM   #31
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Littleman Poet, I think we're coming together - I thought for a while there that we had a different understanding of this subject.
I don't mind subjects going off at tangents, as long as they're interesting.
I can't help but wonder whether readers of the books have missed a central issue. I do get the impression that a lot of readers think Tolkien was holding up the Elves as admirable ('Look at this ideal race of PERFECT beings I've created, aren't they wonderful). For me that's not it. He is exploring ideas, & themes such as power vs powerlessness, time & eternity, & ultimately, Death, seen from the perspective of & in contrast to an everliving race. After all, how admirable are the Elves? I'm old enough to remember when the Silmarillion was published. The reaction of many readers to the portrayal of the Elves was very condemnatory. They liked the Elves of LotR, beautiful, tragic, etherial, but Elves as proud, violent, intolerant, even cruel, wasn't what they wanted at all! I don't think Tolkien saw any of his races as 'ideal'. They were all flawed, but as we see from his later writings, the themes he was exploring grew more & more to dominate, & the central theme is the inevitability of Death, & how we deal with that one inescapable reality.
As for the Half-Elven, this is a very complex matter - how can they choose? To the extent that they're Elves, how can the understand mortality? To the extent that they're mortal, how can they understand immortality? Assuming that its not just a choice between dying or not dying, & that its a change in their essential nature, how can they make an informed decision?
Also, you come to the question of to what extent death is part of our nature - if its a 'gift' is an 'extra' an 'add on'. Or does it 'define' us, is it part of our 'essential being'? Is it the greatest gift we could have been given? Our transitoriness is central to our achievements - art, music, science. The knowledge that we will one day leave this world, but the sense that that is not the end, is the central fact of our nature. ~I think Tolkien was interested in themes like this, & that that's what he was exploring in his writings. That's why the Legendarium isn't a 'fantasy' story, just another tale of Elves & Dwarves, Wizards & conquering heroes with magic swords, fighting & defeating the usual 'Demon King' who wants to take ove the world & enslave the 'Free Peoples', etc, etc.
Its a dark tale, set in a dark world (our own) where the end, for us & for all things, is inevitable, & all that we have to hold onto is 'Hope, without guarantees'.
(By the way, the 'mallorns in Aman' thing isn't original, it was from Paul Kocher's Master of Middle Earth).
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Old 03-15-2003, 09:16 PM   #32
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Very interesting discussion. I don't think it comes out so much from LotR but, having recently read the Silmarillion for the first time, it does seem that one of the central themes of JRRT's works is the tension between mortality and immortality. When I first read of death being a "gift" given to Men by Iluvatar, this confused me. How could death be a gift? Surely, immortality would be far better?

But herein lies the key to this theme. One might, on initial consideration, think of immortality as the more attractive proposition. But, is it really? I think that this was one of the questions that JRRT was exploring in his works. The two main races of ME, the two strains of the Children of Iluvatar, have one key diffference. One lot is immortal. The other lot ain't. And we learn in the Silmarillion, and other collections of JRRT's writings, such as the Unfinished Tales, of how these two different races react to each other and to the world about them.

Quote:
I do get the impression that a lot of readers think Tolkien was holding up the Elves as admirable ('Look at this ideal race of PERFECT beings I've created, aren't they wonderful). For me that's not it. He is exploring ideas, & themes such as power vs powerlessness, time & eternity, & ultimately, Death, seen from the perspective of & in contrast to an everliving race.
Spot on, davem. In exploring how an immortal race might react to a changing world, and to the mortal race that they share the world with, JRRT reveals to us the imperfections of immortality. Their attempts to halt the mutability of the world about them have been expressed already with great insight on this thread. But what I find equally fascinating is their reaction to their mortal counterparts, Men. How would you react to someone whose lifespan represents only the flicker of an eye compared with your own lifespan? How would you feel if you knew that a trusted friend and ally, not to mention all of his descendants, would live and die in what would seem only a brief period of your own life?

Though the Eldar clearly respect the three great Houses of Men that they first come across and form strong friendships and alliances with them, they nevertheless seem to regard them as servants and, even, as "cannon fodder". The Houses of Men are taken into their lands, and given domains of their own. But they seem to be expected to serve the Eldar (and apparently do so willingly). It is, for example, regarded as entirely natural that Hurin and Huor should give their lives (well, far more, in Hurin's case) to cover the withdrawal of Turgon in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, notwithstanding that eveyone knows that Turgon and his people will go to the Halls of Mandos on their death, whereas the fate of Men on death is unknown. Do the Elves, possibly, regard Men as inferior, and their lives less valuable, at this stage?

During the Second and Third Ages, Elves seem to come to regard Men more as equals. How does this change come about? Is it a rection to Eru/the Valar's recognition of the worth of Men implicit in the granting to them of the domain of Numenor? Do the Eldar come to accept that to be mortal is not necessarily to be inferior?

By the end of the Third Age, of course, Elves have come to recognise that their time on ME is over and that its future lies with Men. This ties in with their recognition that their attempts to halt change on ME are futile. The times they are a changin', and ME is no longer a place for them, so they must withdraw to Valinor. Men, whose mortality allows them to be infinately more flexible, are far more equipped to deal with the change and so it is they who inherit the earth.
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Old 03-15-2003, 11:35 PM   #33
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True immortality versus limitless serial longevity. Limitless serial longevity shakes me to my core like nothing else. It is the void. Trust me. I have thought long and hard about this, trying to shake it out of my mind; more often, trying to shake my mind off of it. :P True immortality is, to use a Christian metaphor/definition, eternal life; a life that is not bound by time, but is a constant present tense having complete fulfillment and contentment by virtue of the sustainment of Eru ...
So the hideous peril could be, in my point of view, anything from insanity to being cast into the void, and every nightmarish prospect inbetween. Is this what the Elves had to look forward to? I envy them not.
Thank you -- not only has this helped me sharpen my thoughts on the matter, I think I share your sense of void (it's an ineffable, permeable experience and one that compels a desperation to escape it by any nearby means should it last a half second longer). However, this is a digression I am content to let pass.

What your post helped me to see more clearly is that the "hideous peril" mentioned by Tolkien is separation, or perhaps perceived separation, from Iluvatar and from joy. [True joy, in my experience, is one of the most poignant experiences possible.]

I agree with you about what true immortality is. This is also something I have experienced--being completely in the present moment and in wonder is to lose time and also place. In reading Letters, Tolkien has said as much. There is always a sense of bereftness upon "returning" to the "real" world. And, it is odd that it is fear that always brings me back. This causes me to wonder if Iluvatar may have had intended for Men to discover true immortality in order to counteract Sauron's successful use of fear in Numenor to turn Men's minds towards the temporal & corporeal. Just a thought ... At any rate, to choose the finite (power over others) over the infinite (contentment in fulfilling one's note in the Great Song) is certainly insanity--especially when Iluvatar has said that nothing can subvert his plans or change the Song.

Littlemanpoet also:
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The Ringwraiths sought to escape death and ended up with a serial longevity limited only by the longevity of the Ring. Aragorn accepted his death as a gift, and received it well.
Well, gee, that was a big "duh" wasn't it? I should have been able to figure that one out! [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] Thanks!

and Littlemanpoet again:
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This strikes me as rather appropo of Western modernism. At the risk of creating a huge tangent on this thread, do you suppose Tolkien was making such an unintentional commentary regarding modernism? Think of Eliot’s Wasteland, for example.
Enthusiastic and excited nodding of head -- yes! Wasteland also occurred to me as I travel through Letters. Eliot's masterpiece conveys enough of the void so effectively that just the well known snippets can bring on those shivers.

Davem:
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As for the Half-Elven, this is a very complex matter - how can they choose? To the extent that they're Elves, how can the understand mortality? To the extent that they're mortal, how can they understand immortality? Assuming that its not just a choice between dying or not dying, & that its a change in their essential nature, how can they make an informed decision?
I am somewhat confused -- the half-Elven (Elrond, Elros, et al) did choose. Shall I infer that they did so without thinking, nay--without the capacity to comprehend what what involved?

Davem again:
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Our transitoriness is central to our achievements - art, music, science. The knowledge that we will one day leave this world, but the sense that that is not the end, is the central fact of our nature. ~I think Tolkien was interested in themes like this, & that that's what he was exploring in his writings. That's why the Legendarium isn't a 'fantasy' story, just another tale of Elves & Dwarves, Wizards & conquering heroes with magic swords, fighting & defeating the usual 'Demon King' who wants to take ove the world & enslave the 'Free Peoples'
Another enthusiastic nodding of head--this brings Aragorn back into the picture as when Littlemanpoet pointed out that Aragorn had a good death.

Without recounting Aragorn's end of days in ME, it is an example of one who chose to be in harmony with one's nature and with the earth as well. He recognized and wisely appreciated the rhythms, ebbs & flows, and patterns of life in Men and Nature. He accepted his place--his note in the Great Song, if you will. As a result, he was able to see far into and beyond most matters concerning ME (as did Faramir). Acceptance led to greater awareness, greater awareness led to insight, insight to heroism, and heroism starts it all over again. I think Tolkien understood and communicated this throughout the tales.

I hope I did not stray too far from the topic. It is the most important (I almost said "precious" [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] ) thing to me in LotR and Silmiarillion. It is why I go back to them again and again and apply what I gain from each re-reading to the choices made in my own life and in my notions about death.
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Old 03-17-2003, 04:31 AM   #34
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Saucepan Man, without straying too far from the thread, you're right, in my opinion, about the Elves in the First Age. They are virtually approaching Fascism in some ways - they are racist. Dwarves at first are hunted like animals, till the Eldar are forced to acknowledge they aren't 'animals'. Men are 'guests' or 'aftercomers' (i.e. Men don't really belong in 'their' world, but will be 'tolerated' as long as they prove useful & do what's expected of them. The Elves have claimed the world as their own, & woe betide anyone who doesn't accept their rulership! For the Elves, it seems that to be mortal is to be inferior. To Die, in their eyes, seems to make one worthless. They refer to death as the 'Gift' of Illuvatar, but its almost like some of them see it as a mark of contempt.
Oh, I think I've maybe gone over the top [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img].
But I can't help thinking there is something of that in the attitude of the Elves. I think Tolkien was such a great artist because he (despite what too many ignorant critics say) didn't create 'ideal' beings or races. His creation is incredibly complex, & he explores some very subtle (& 'dangerous') ideas.
Maybe we should start a new, Anti-Elf thread [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]. ('What have the Elves ever done for us...?')
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Old 03-17-2003, 11:59 PM   #35
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dininziliel,

As far as the Half-elven understanding mortality better than full elves, I think Davem refers just to those who chose to be elves. Obviously those that chose man have a complete understanding of the "gift". Read the story of Arwen after Aragorn dies... she finally gets it.

However, those who chose "elf" at least had to seriously consider being mortal (more than just in theory), giving them a greater understanding.

(How's that Davim? Feel free to stomp me if I'm putting words into your mouth... just my opinion on a great point.) [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ March 18, 2003: Message edited by: Adanadhel ]
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Old 03-18-2003, 03:18 AM   #36
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Adanadhel, in a word, yeah, well, more or less [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]. Actually, I haven't really thought enough about it, but you've pretty much got what I meant, whether its acurate or not, I don't know.
What Saucepan Man & I were onto about the Elves has got me thinking , though. Its not just that the Elves had a tendency towards 'fascism' in their approach to other races. Its worse.
Tolkien says the Elves had 'flirted with Sauron'. OK, but what does he mean? In his letters Tolkien would often refer to Satan as Sauron. Tolkien was also a committed Christian who believed absolutely in the existence of Satan.
In other words, when he says the Elves 'Flirted with Sauron, he's actually saying they 'Dabbled in Satanism. But obviously he's not implying the kind of thing that went on in the last years of Numenor, with human sacrifice & such.
As I understand it, not being a Christian, the 'sin' of Satan was 'Pride', but not just swaggering around being superior. No, Satan's 'pride' took the form of considering himself superior to God. In other words, he decided God had got it wrong, & the world need to be put right. God made the World, Satan would set out to re-make it, 'in his own image'. So we come to the Elves. Don't they see things the same way? The world is 'wrong' & needs to be put right. But they also see themselves as 'superior' to everything else. And that sense of superiority comes from one thing - Immortality. They don't die & everything else does. So, for them, that's what's wrong, what has to be put right. Remove Death, & everything becomes like them - 'perfect'. This is how Sauron gets them - he offers to teach them how to make the Three Rings. Then they can remove death from the world. But really all the Rings offer is the Power to 'Embalm', not to remove death from the world, but more to remove Life, birth, growth, maturity, death. Mutability, change, it all goes & Arda becomes embalmed in an 'undying' (undead?) state.
For me, when Galadriel rejects the Ring, & says she will Diminish, & go into the West, & remain Galadriel, she is symbolic of all the Elves. 'Remaining Galadriel', is accepting her own , immortal nature. Going into the West is accepting the mortal nature of Arda & all things in it, & letting them be.
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Old 03-18-2003, 07:30 PM   #37
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dininziliel:
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...compels a desperation to escape it by any nearby means should it last a half second longer...
Indeed. Precisely! You are the first person I've run across who knows what I'm talking about - from the inside. Enough! Moving on...

davem: I understand what you and SPM are getting at, however it is anachronistic to attribute a kind of fascism to the Elves of the First Age. Yes, many of the elements are there, and perhaps one may be able to construct an argument out of it that Tolkien was commentating upon his times (God forbid such a thing ever appear in article or book!). HOWEVER: (and I quibble) I think it would be best to view this not from a mid-20th century lens, but from that of myth. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know what the ramifications of this might be. But I'll take a stab at it. The Elves of Tolkien have their sources in Western myth, including such characteristics as immortality, superiority of thought and body and craft, and a frankly epic proportion to their endeavors that is foreign to the lot of Man. So Elves are indeed superior to the humans around them, and deign to aid them in knowledge and craft; even mating with them (who knows why?). Tolkien takes this into account in LotR, and brings it home especially with Samwise. "They seem to be above my likes and dislikes." So to attribute fascism to Elves is perhaps akin to mice attributing evil to cats simply because cats eat mice. From the mouse's point of view it might make perfect sense, but in the context of the "reality" with which the Elves must live, it's simply not to the point. This has been a decidedly round-about way of making my point, partly because I didn't know what my point was when I started. [img]smilies/tongue.gif[/img] Anyway, it harks back to a point I made earlier about envying them not. Perhaps I was wrong to say that we are both Elves and Men; because I can see now that there is a way in which we simply cannot fathom the dilemma of Elvishness.
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Old 03-18-2003, 07:35 PM   #38
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But they also see themselves as 'superior' to everything else. And that sense of superiority comes from one thing - Immortality.
Exactly. Despite the fact that mortality is described as the "gift" given by Iluvatar to Men, the Elves (in the First Age at least) seem to regard it as a sign of inferiority. And yet, the sacrifice of the likes of Hurin and Huor (on behalf of Elves) is in some ways made far more heroic precisely because they do not know where they go when they die, whereas the Elves who die in the struggle with Morgoth know precisely what their fate is.

Edit: Littlemanpoet - I wouldn't go so far as to describe the Elves of the First Age as "fascists". The point that I was making is that JRRT seems to have been exploring some of the ramifications of death and its inevitability in the reaction of an immortal race to an mortal one. At first, the Elves (quite naturally, I should think) seem to regard their immortality as a sign of superiority over Men. But, over time I think that they come to accept that it is not necessarily a sign of superiority, but simply a different state of being.

[ March 18, 2003: Message edited by: The Saucepan Man ]
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Old 03-18-2003, 11:18 PM   #39
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Davem:
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For me, when Galadriel rejects the Ring, & says she will Diminish, & go into the West, & remain Galadriel, she is symbolic of all the Elves. 'Remaining Galadriel', is accepting her own , immortal nature. Going into the West is accepting the mortal nature of Arda & all things in it, & letting them be.
Saucepan Man:
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At first, the Elves (quite naturally, I should think) seem to regard their immortality as a sign of superiority over Men. But, over time I think that they come to accept that it is not necessarily a sign of superiority, but simply a different state of being.
These are complementary viewpoints. I would add my humble agreement and add that I think Elves come to envy Men a bit, too. They come to see that immortality in Arda does not bring whatever it is that one seeks in immortality. A miss is as good as a mile; it is made that much more poignant for coming so close yet being so far. As has already been said so much more eloquently, an embalmed body is not a living body.

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Old 03-19-2003, 03:24 AM   #40
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Ok, I used the term 'fascist' as a shorthand. Though I did say it was 'almost' fascist. I suppose what I want is to try & combat the idea prevalent among a lot of readers that Elves are wholly good & perfect. Of course, you can't project 20th century attitudes & values on a myth, but then the Legendarium (as Tolkien called it), isn't a true myth, as Tolkien was a 20th century man, much as he might have wished to have been an Anglo-Saxon in th 8th or 9th century.
As far Elves being immortal in mythology, well, there are numerous folklore accounts of 'Fairy funerals', so the tradition is not consistent. I think Tolkien took elements of myth & changed them to suit the tale he wanted to tell, explore the themes which mattered to him. His Elves are not really very like the sources he took them from, The Norse Alfar or the Celtic Tuatha de Danaan. The are similar, but also very different in some ways. The Elves of myth are part of a Pagan world view. Tuatha de Danaan means Children of (the Goddess) Danu. They are very dangerous, chaotic & unpredictable. Also malicious & terrifying. What Tolkien has done is to in a way 'Christainise' the mythical Elves, to make them fit in with his myth.
So, while we shouldn't project modern values & ideologies onto any of Tolkien's races, we can't just say they're the races of traditional mythology, which Tolkien has picked up & put into his tales in their original form. He's changed them, so we can judge the changes hes made & question why he made the changes he did.
Anyway, this really is straying from the original subject
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