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Old 03-12-2009, 03:29 PM   #201
Lalwendë
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Hmmm, just that if we have a book (or any other kind of Art or entertainment) which shows war as 'not that bad, really', then hasn't it crossed a boundary? Even in video games where you can hack, slash and do what you like with glee, there isn't any sense that doing this stuff is in any way alright. It always hurts somebody.
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Old 03-12-2009, 03:49 PM   #202
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I like that disclaimer, alatar. When it comes to depictions of "realism," I don't need graphic details of word or image to understand the reality. When I hear that a bomb struck a building full of people, for instance, I don't need to be told the details of what happened to the building and their bodies to know the kind of carnage that ensued, and feel horrified by it. Perhaps other people do. In fantasy, I might need to be told what the effects of a magic "blast" may be, since magic can operate under whatever laws the author wants, and have the results the author desires. But Tolkien's battles were not written as magical battles, and thus I can reasonably presume that their brutality and the results would be much the same as similarly fought battles in the real world.

As to the kind of story Tolkien was attempting to tell, in letter 183, he says:

Quote:
In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about 'freedom', though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour.
As this letter is a response to W. H. Auden's review of RotK, it is long and has many things to say; in particular, Tolkien writes at some length about good and evil, motivations, and such. But he ends the letter with an interesting observation:

Quote:
So I feel that the fiddle-faddle in reviews, and correspondence about them, as to whether my 'good people' were kind and merciful and gave quarter (in fact they do), or not, is quite beside the point. Some critics seem determined to represent me as a simple-minded adolescent, inspired with, say, a With-the-flag-to-Pretoria spirit, and willfully distort what is said in my tale. I have not that spirit, and it does not appear in the story. The figure of Denethor alone is enough to show this; but I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or Gondor, any better than men have been, or are, or can be. Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth' -- which is our habitation.
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Old 03-12-2009, 04:04 PM   #203
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Exactly! Maybe he skipped over all of the real life gore and mud because he wanted to, maybe not so much in the way of the lesson, show a world where even war wasn't as ugly, and that the good prevail, and that hope springs eternal.

And isn't that what fantasy's all about? Escape from reality?
And Tolkien's opinion:
Quote:
Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion. For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen. OFS
For Tolkien fantasy is not an 'anything goes' genre. It has its basis in, is founded on, primary world reality. It does not reject scientific fact - where it departs from them it does so for logical reasons -

"If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion."

Tolkienian fantasy has its basis in cold hard facts - it is not an anything goes genre. If it was he would not have spent so much of his life creating Middle-earth. Hence, when such 'cold, hard facts' are omitted they are omitted for a reason. A world 'where war isn't ugly' is a world which is not based on the 'cold hard facts' that Tolkien insists on. In fact, such a world is exactly the kind of 'morbid delusion' that he condemns.

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Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.

To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.OFS
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Originally Posted by Ibrîniđilpathânezel
I like that disclaimer, alatar. When it comes to depictions of "realism," I don't need graphic details of word or image to understand the reality. When I hear that a bomb struck a building full of people, for instance, I don't need to be told the details of what happened to the building and their bodies to know the kind of carnage that ensued, and feel horrified by it. Perhaps other people do.
But what if a writer included such an event in his story, but implied that the people died quickly & peacefully, & left behind neat, unmutilated corpses?

One can certainly write about an invented world where Pixies ride around on purple unicorns & the sun shines all day long & no-one is ever unhappy. And that would be 'fantasy' as well. But it wouldn't be Tolkienian fantasy. When one chooses to write about war, about battlefields, about men killing each other, then doesn't one have (if one is writing Tolkienian fantasy, with its roots in cold hard facts & 'the perception of scientific verity' & where if the sun is green its green-ness must be given a justification) an obligation to ground that killing & dying in cold hard facts as well?
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Old 03-12-2009, 04:44 PM   #204
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I like that disclaimer, alatar. When it comes to depictions of "realism," I don't need graphic details of word or image to understand the reality. When I hear that a bomb struck a building full of people, for instance, I don't need to be told the details of what happened to the building and their bodies to know the kind of carnage that ensued, and feel horrified by it. Perhaps other people do. In fantasy, I might need to be told what the effects of a magic "blast" may be, since magic can operate under whatever laws the author wants, and have the results the author desires. But Tolkien's battles were not written as magical battles, and thus I can reasonably presume that their brutality and the results would be much the same as similarly fought battles in the real world.
Hmmm, but if you hear about a bombing, for example, without any of the stories involved in it, then the atrocity is just about statistics. We can say with genuine horror "100 people were killed". But if we know a little about those people, it becomes more touching.

Taking the holocaust as an example, it's one thing to know that 6 million were murdered, but it's quite another to read Anne Frank's diary or to watch Schindler's List. The former is just a fact, the latter are stories.

Tolkien knew the human need for stories, and he did not flinch when it came to texts like the Children of Hurin, nor did he flinch in every instance in Lord of the Rings, but sometimes he does flinch. He didn't have to tell us the gory detail if he didn't want to, the stories behind some of the hundreds killed are another way of achieving empathy.
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Old 03-12-2009, 05:09 PM   #205
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For Tolkien fantasy is not an 'anything goes' genre. It has its basis in, is founded on, primary world reality. It does not reject scientific fact - where it departs from them it does so for logical reasons
Understood.

Quote:
Tolkienian fantasy has its basis in cold hard facts - it is not an anything goes genre. If it was he would not have spent so much of his life creating Middle-earth. Hence, when such 'cold, hard facts' are omitted they are omitted for a reason. A world 'where war isn't ugly' is a world which is not based on the 'cold hard facts' that Tolkien insists on. In fact, such a world is exactly the kind of 'morbid delusion' that he condemns.
Show me once (I'm probably setting myself up for a big dose of stupid ) where any character, especially an elf, voids itself of what cannot be digested, metabolized or is the product of symbiotic bacteria in the gut, if you know what I'm saying. Sure is a lot of eatin' and drinkin' in Tolkien's world, yet his light never shines on the subsequent requisite activity. Think that we all know that it's there, but somehow don't mind that it was left to our imagining.

How long a walk was it from Rivendell to the Bridge in the Mines of Moria? Was the Balrog brought down by magic or halitosis? Sure, Gollum is said to have stank, but me I'd rather be upwind of the Nine Walkers after such a long trip as well.

But you're going to tell me that, along with the dying moaning soldier lying om the Pelennor in blood, offal and other words whose meanings I'm not quite sure of, you thought about other biological realities of any or many of the main characters?

Now I get what y'all are saying, seeing that maybe, just maybe, Tolkien was glorifying war because he wasn't gorifying it. But maybe that's you. Me, the scene where Sam sees the dead man in Ithilien speaks loudly.

And just how much better was Jackson's depiction? Would anyone be more or less 'rah-rah' after watching the movies (which depict a few suffering souls) or reading the books?
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Old 03-13-2009, 12:53 AM   #206
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And just how much better was Jackson's depiction? Would anyone be more or less 'rah-rah' after watching the movies (which depict a few suffering souls) or reading the books?
Remember what I posted earlier -

Quote:
"War is brutal, harrowing and devastating for everyone involved, and war fiction should be every bit as brutal, harrowing and devastating as the violence of the reality it seeks to document. Anything less at best sanitises war and its effects, at worst trivialises it. Anything more exploits other people's misery as purely vicarious entertainment. It is a very, very fine line."
I'd say Tolkien too often falls to the former side of the line, Jackson too often to the latter.
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Old 03-13-2009, 02:14 PM   #207
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Officer, arrest that strangeness!

We Downers are all very adept at picking and choosing quotations from The Professor--or any author, for that matter-- to shore up our side of the discussion, but often a quotation cannot of itself provide a preemptive strike or hard and fast evidence of a position unless the entire context of the essay is considered and applied with the quotation. We are like Protestants who delight in chapter and verse while being woefully unable to provide a thematic framework which puts the quotation in context.

Tolkien wrote OFS to ofset a trend which disturbed him--the trend to relegating fairy tales to the children's nursery. He wrote to restore fantasy to full fledged position in the adult literature of a nation and culture. To that end, he sought to prove that fairy stories partake of certain qualities which adult literature of his time had. One of the most important qualities was credibility: is this world, story credible? This accounts for Tolkien's careful explication that fantasy not insult reason or scientific verity--note his use of the word verity rather than veracity. Yet fantasy is not, for Tolkien, beholding to the world of historical fiction: a recognition of fact, not a slavery to it, he writes. (I think it was Ibrin who first made this point and kudos to her for this.) The world in fantasy must be credible and natural, but also--and this is the difficult part for a writer to achieve--strange, unusual, utterly something other at the same time. It is the realm of Fairie, in which fairies have their being, as Tolkien puts it.

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Originally Posted by OFS
The definition of a fairy story--what it is, what it should be--does not then depend upon any definition or historical account [my italics] of elf or fairy but upon the nature of Fairie, the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country.
Those of us who are charitable might add here that Fairie does not depend upon any historical account of war either. (And in this analysis Tolkien is typically English in understating his contribution when he refers to his "imperfect vision of it". )

And later in the essay Tolkien differentiates his idea of sub-creation from representation or symbolic interpretation of the beauties and terrors of the world. Literary belief in Fantasy, for Tolkien, has to do with Art, with the magical qualities of story telling, where unlikeness to the Primary World and freedom from the domination of observed 'fact' engage strangeness and wonder in the Expression.

Another way of expressing this is Tolkien's idea about how fantasy distances us from our own time, which would also make it not susceptible to authenticating it by events of our time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OFS
For one thing, they are now old, and antiguity has an appeal in itself--distance and a great abyss of time. . . . They open a door on Another Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside of Time itself, maybe.
In fact, Tolkien argues that things in Fairey which do not conform to the primacy world are not grounds for criticism:

Quote:
Originally Posted by OFS
That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that is indeed possible) is a virtue, not a vice.
For Tolkien, Fantasy plays strange tricks with the world, and that includes not just elves and hobbits and balrogs, but war as well as trees which grow in darkness without light.

So, in short, there be my pickin's of quotations. (Everything I have bolded save for Downers' names are Tolkien's words from OFS unless otherwise noted.)
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Old 03-17-2009, 11:33 AM   #208
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But what if a writer included such an event in his story, but implied that the people died quickly & peacefully, & left behind neat, unmutilated corpses?
Consider that in Tolkien's world, unlike our own, Men (i.e. humans), like other creatures in his world, started off in a state much above where we find ourselves today. Think about it - the Edain lived much longer than we could ever hope (at this present time), could fight with and alongside magical creatures, and some, if they stayed true, at the end of their days could lay down their lives in peace, giving back the gift.

We in this world have trodden a different course, where we now live longer than ever before, live and maybe one day even fight alongside seemingly magical technologies, and can, if legally available, lay down our lives peaceable at the end of our days. It was not always so.

So if in Tolkien world we have devolved from the heroes of old, and if the ability to lay down one's life was previously available, how do we know that the soldiery in, say, the Third Age, when fatally injured on the battle, just 'turned off,' after uttering some pro-Gondorian salute?

"May the King return!"

These soldiers may have not enough of the pure blood to die when at home, but in extremis, like after being hacked half to death by some orcs with less-than-sharp implements, would find the ability within (or maybe Eru would grant the ability at that moment, or maybe they would hear Ulmo telling them how to do it in all of the perspiration around).

It is we, less noble and possible intermingled with orcs - genetically or psychologically - that in later years have cried out and moaned upon the battlefield.
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Old 03-17-2009, 01:22 PM   #209
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So if in Tolkien world we have devolved from the heroes of old, and if the ability to lay down one's life was previously available, how do we know that the soldiery in, say, the Third Age, when fatally injured on the battle, just 'turned off,' after uttering some pro-Gondorian salute?

"May the King return!"

.
Because Tolkien never mentions anything of the sort. One might as well offer up the explanation that Earedel hovered invisibly over the battlefields & teleported the corpses off the field. Or that lots of carnivorous butterflies alighted on the bodies & ate them.

What you're doing, it seems to me, is inventing an 'explanation' for which there's no textual support in order to avoid the difficulties in the story. The simplest explanation is that Tolkien decided not to deal with the actual, unpleasant realities of warfare (& other things) because he didn't want such things in his story. The question is whether he was justified in doing that?

And further, if Tolkien is justified in doing that, because he is 'subcreating' a secondary world, how can one condemn, say, Philip Pullman for presenting us with a God who is a senile old fake, or any writer creating a secondary world in which black people are sub-human, rape is fun for all concerned, or mass murder of jews is a moral act?

OK - I've taken extreme examples there, but that's what it comes down to - does the fantasy genre permit any degree of 'invention' on a writer's part? I'm fairly sure that many who would defend Tolkien's right to omit the 'unpleasant' realities of death in battle in Middle-earth, would condemn Pullman's depiction of God - not simply as 'offensive' but also as untrue....

Because, we either say that fantasy as a genre allows total freedom to a writer to depict any kind of world they wish & we, as readers, must not question that right, or we accept that we do have a right to question the choices a writer of fantasy makes, the omissions & inclusions.
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Old 03-17-2009, 08:10 PM   #210
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And further, if Tolkien is justified in doing that, because he is 'subcreating' a secondary world, how can one condemn, say, Philip Pullman for presenting us with a God who is a senile old fake, or any writer creating a secondary world in which black people are sub-human, rape is fun for all concerned, or mass murder of jews is a moral act?

OK - I've taken extreme examples there, but that's what it comes down to - does the fantasy genre permit any degree of 'invention' on a writer's part? I'm fairly sure that many who would defend Tolkien's right to omit the 'unpleasant' realities of death in battle in Middle-earth, would condemn Pullman's depiction of God - not simply as 'offensive' but also as untrue....
Your extreme examples would very likely not be allowed--that is, would be taken to court if published--in the realistic fiction you trumpet so much, at least in the countries which have laws against hate literature while also eschewing censorship, so those restrictions would also pertain to fantasy.

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Because, we either say that fantasy as a genre allows total freedom to a writer to depict any kind of world they wish & we, as readers, must not question that right, or we accept that we do have a right to question the choices a writer of fantasy makes, the omissions & inclusions.
This is a false dichotomy. This is not an 'either/or' situation, as there are more than just these two choices.

For instance, readers have the right to question, explore, and examine the choices a writer makes, but the significant issue is the grounds which determine the questionings, exploring or examining, because those grounds make the questioning more or less credible.

davem's answer to the observation about Tolkien's war descriptions (which has not itself gone unchallenged) is to argue that only historical veracity is the true and acceptable measure. This ignores Tolkien's other criteria, of arresting strangeness, as well as overlooking Tolkien's insistence that LotR was not a veiled representation of WWII.

As I said, this ain't an either/or situation.
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Old 03-18-2009, 12:17 AM   #211
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Your extreme examples would very likely not be allowed--that is, would be taken to court if published--in the realistic fiction you trumpet so much, at least in the countries which have laws against hate literature while also eschewing censorship, so those restrictions would also pertain to fantasy.
Exactly. And we're all fine with that. It would be illegal (though not everyone would consider all those examples to be 'immoral' - many athiests find Pullman's depiction of God & the Church perfectly fine, many believers not. Many white supremacists would find 'sub human' black people perfectly acceptable, if not simply 'true' according to their lights).

Thus, a line does exist as to what's acceptable & what isn't - 'Fantasy' as a genre does not = anything goes. We expect certain standards to be maintained, certain boundaries to be upheld. But are they simply 'negative' boundaries - 'Within these set bounds you may do as you please", or are there more 'positive' requirements? Has political correctness entered the secondary world? We know from what we know of Tolkien, the old school Catholic who attended Mass everyday, that homosexuality & adultery would (if they had appeared in his world) have been 'sinful' & that no 'good' person would have done either. Yet, if homosexual acts had been presented by Tolkien as 'Orcish' or immoral, would we have accepted that as being within those 'bounds' I mentioned earlier, or not? Probably at the time it was published they would have been, but nowadays not. So, Tolkien's presentation of war, specifically of death in battle, is not 'true'. Battles involving men dying on the end of sharpened metal implements of various ingenious designs were not as Tolkien depicted them. And Tolkien knew they weren't. More importantly, we nowadays, know they weren't. Yet, though we (or most of us) would not accept a depiction of homosexuality as sinful & as solely the province of 'bad' people, we do accept a sanitised & completely misleading depiction of warfare.

Quote:
For instance, readers have the right to question, explore, and examine the choices a writer makes, but the significant issue is the grounds which determine the questionings, exploring or examining, because those grounds make the questioning more or less credible.
And who determines those 'grounds'? Who decides what questions can be asked & which questions (or perhaps questioners) are verboten? I cannot help feeling that that issue, too, is to be decided (as with what is acceptable in fantasy fiction) on subjective grounds. Either a question is valid (whatever the grounds it is asked on) - ie is 'logical', or it is invalid - therefore illogical & thus impossible to answer.

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This ignores Tolkien's other criteria, of arresting strangeness, as well as overlooking Tolkien's insistence that LotR was not a veiled representation of WWII.
I don't see how an honest depiction of war excludes 'arresting sttrangeness' - it may even enhance it - the etherial beauty, the arresting strangeness, of Lorien would only be magnified by contrating it to the true horror of death on the Pelennor. And I don't see where WWII comes into it. Hacking someone with a broadsword will produce certain physiological effects which, being universal, & determined by the essential nature of the human body, are timeless, & not limited to events in WWII. In fact, I would say that the very use of implements such as swords & spears, as opposed to machine guns & hand grenades is sufficient in itself to seperate the War of the Ring from WWII.

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Old 03-18-2009, 10:18 AM   #212
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Because Tolkien never mentions anything of the sort. One might as well offer up the explanation that Earedel hovered invisibly over the battlefields & teleported the corpses off the field. Or that lots of carnivorous butterflies alighted on the bodies & ate them.
Please...

Quote:
What you're doing, it seems to me, is inventing an 'explanation' for which there's no textual support in order to avoid the difficulties in the story.
It's very possible that I just like having a good discussion with you.

Anyway, to put you in the dock for a moment:
  • Do you affirm or deny that there is textual support that someone of Númenórean descent could stop living at a self-determined moment, though we may not know the mechanism?
  • Do you affirm or deny that there is textual support for the existence of Númenórean 'blood' in the soldier population of Gondor at the end of the Third Age, regardless of the amount?
  • Do you affirm or deny that there is textual support that makes my supposition completely impossible (i.e. a direct and clear statement to the fact that men with Númenórean blood could not chose the moment of their deaths)?

However much my paranoia makes me believe in carnivorous butterflies, there is no textual support, as you indicate, for the same. I would believe that there are insects in Middle Earth, as we see examples of the midges and neekerbreekers and having poor Grima name 'Worm.' Surely some type of bug - so close to Mordor - would attack the wounds and flesh of the dying on the battlefield. But butterflies? I'd believe locusts or spiders or ants or beetles, as they 'eat' things whereas butterflies are nectar drinkers (or whatever the technical term is).

Quote:
The simplest explanation is that Tolkien decided not to deal with the actual, unpleasant realities of warfare (& other things) because he didn't want such things in his story. The question is whether he was justified in doing that?
Okay, so I think that this is a more fair and understandable question. What justice do you seek from his writings? Again, if we are including 'what really happens,' we don't have to stop at the battlefield. Is this an issue with fantasy, or with writing a whole? How would the story change if we have to 'real up' every scene? Where did Bilbo store his butter? How did he keep Bag End so dry...dry enough to store books? Etc.

Quote:
And further, if Tolkien is justified in doing that, because he is 'subcreating' a secondary world, how can one condemn, say, Philip Pullman for presenting us with a God who is a senile old fake, or any writer creating a secondary world in which black people are sub-human, rape is fun for all concerned, or mass murder of jews is a moral act?
I'm sure that it's all in the head of the reader. If the writer can create something plausible that a reader can then accept; well, there you would have it.

If you ever get the chance, speaking of bugs, read, "Hellstrom's Hive" by Frank Herbert. Tell me that by the end you're not rooting for the insect humans over our current society. Why? Because the writer set up a scenario that me as the reader could accept as plausible. Now, when I put the book down, I'm not looking forward to becoming a bug-like species, but when in the book, I can see it.

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OK - I've taken extreme examples there, but that's what it comes down to - does the fantasy genre permit any degree of 'invention' on a writer's part? I'm fairly sure that many who would defend Tolkien's right to omit the 'unpleasant' realities of death in battle in Middle-earth, would condemn Pullman's depiction of God - not simply as 'offensive' but also as untrue....
Readers' experiences with materials may vary.

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Because, we either say that fantasy as a genre allows total freedom to a writer to depict any kind of world they wish & we, as readers, must not question that right, or we accept that we do have a right to question the choices a writer of fantasy makes, the omissions & inclusions.
Writers can do whatever they like (within the law, of course), and readers can decide whether the work is good or not.

Seems to me that many must agree that Tolkien's battlefield depictions work.
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Old 03-18-2009, 01:18 PM   #213
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  • Do you affirm or deny that there is textual support that makes my supposition completely impossible (i.e. a direct and clear statement to the fact that men with Númenórean blood could not chose the moment of their deaths)?
Denethor had Numenorean blood but he still had to resort to immolation. I suspect that in the height of battle the necessary peace of mind would be absent - particularly if one was missing limbs/intestines. Howsumever...what of those who didn't have Numenorean blood (like Hobbits & Rohirrim?)


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However much my paranoia makes me believe in carnivorous butterflies, there is no textual support, as you indicate, for the same. I would believe that there are insects in Middle Earth, as we see examples of the midges and neekerbreekers and having poor Grima name 'Worm.'
I won't deny the possibility - merely note that there would have to be a lot of them present. (BTW 'Worm' in Grima's nickname surely references a Wyrm or Dragon in the sense of false speaking)
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How would the story change if we have to 'real up' every scene? Where did Bilbo store his butter? How did he keep Bag End so dry...dry enough to store books? Etc.
I think its entirely plausible to build such a hole - given decent damp-proofing etc

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Seems to me that many must agree that Tolkien's battlefield depictions work.
Actually, from many of the threads & individual posts I've come across on the Downs its fairly clear that many readers have no real knowledge of medieval warfare or the effect of medieval weaponry on the human body, let alone the truth about what happened on the battlefield (how about the fact that bodies of prominent persons would often be boiled in great cauldrons to get rid of the flesh so that the bones could then be transported back to their local church for inhumation?)
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Old 03-18-2009, 01:43 PM   #214
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Denethor had Numenorean blood but he still had to resort to immolation.
Not sure that that's a good example. Methinks that Denethor wanted not only to die but to keep his lifeless body out of the hands of the orcs.

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I suspect that in the height of battle the necessary peace of mind would be absent - particularly if one was missing limbs/intestines. Howsumever...what of those who didn't have Numenorean blood (like Hobbits & Rohirrim?)
Agreed. Just stating 'possible' and not 'probable.'

No hobbits were hurt beyond a hurt arm and a good bruising (those in the Shire had no death scenes and so obviously died instantaneously). And we all know that the Rohirrim, mounted as they were, would have most likely broken their necks as they fell from their horses - again, no pain and suffering. Theoden was crushed by Snowmane, and he never cried out.

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(BTW 'Worm' in Grima's nickname surely references a Wyrm or Dragon in the sense of false speaking)
Considered that as a possibility, but that would assume I knew what you'd stated. Had I not, I would have happily thought for all time that he was named thus due to his slimy character. Does the word 'worm' as it applies to Dragon-kind appear in LotR?

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I think its entirely plausible to build such a hole - given decent damp-proofing etc
What I'm getting it is I assume that when you read the scene where Gandalf and Bilbo (or Frodo) are dialoguing in Bag End, thoughts of waterproofing the structure were far from your mind. When reading about the various battles in LotR, I intellectually know that people are dying in very ugly ways, and that the battlefield is strewn with those whom pity is the only thing you can give to them, as they are beyond aid. That said, in no scene was this my focus as I continued to read onward to see what was to happen next.

Sure, Tolkien could have made a point that dying thus was ugly, but I don't think that that was a major consideration in what he was trying to accomplish. If I were selling you a car/auto/<insert your local word here>, I would not spend much time extolling the virtues of the PCV valve. Yes, it's in there and is important, but I think that you may be more interesting in other details, such as the engine, the colour, the horsepower, the features and if it has room for children.

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Actually, from many of the threads & individual posts I've come across on the Downs its fairly clear that many readers have no real knowledge of medieval warfare or the effect of medieval weaponry on the human body, let alone the truth about what happened on the battlefield (how about the fact that bodies of prominent persons would often be boiled in great cauldrons to get rid of the flesh so that the bones could then be transported back to their local church for inhumation?)
Interesting. I too think it fairly clear that many readers (you and me excluded, though I'm not too sure about you...or me ) haven't any idea how the internet works, how a computer is made, the basics of science, history before they were aware among many other things, and yet they find enjoyment in both Tolkien's words as well as those here on the Downs.

If I wanted reality, I would switch on the news...or maybe not.
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Old 03-18-2009, 02:01 PM   #215
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Really, Dave, are you saying that we should trash Casablanca as a bogus or illegitimate movie because it doesn't show Maj Strasser's convulsive death agonies after Reynaud gut-shoots him? That is a slow, painful and messy way to die, and Cukor wimped out.
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Old 03-18-2009, 02:15 PM   #216
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Considered that as a possibility, but that would assume I knew what you'd stated. Had I not, I would have happily thought for all time that he was named thus due to his slimy character. Does the word 'worm' as it applies to Dragon-kind appear in LotR?
There's a single reference (as far as I remember) to Scatha the Worm - Merry's horn comes from his hoard.

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Really, Dave, are you saying that we should trash Casablanca as a bogus or illegitimate movie because it doesn't show Maj Strasser's convulsive death agonies after Reynaud gut-shoots him? That is a slow, painful and messy way to die, and Cukor wimped out.
I'd say it should have been made apparent how he died. But that's what I'm asking others about - whether there is an obligation on a writer to depict honestly what he knows to be true, or whether. particularly in Fantasy, the writer has special exemption from 'facts'. Shouldn't violent death be shocking, rather than sanitised to the point of meaninglessness? In a story about Death shouldn't the truth about death be brought to the fore?
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Old 03-18-2009, 02:17 PM   #217
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It's very possible that I just like having a good discussion with you.
Yes, it's rather like watching a spin doctor work on a politician's errs and mistakes.

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I would believe that there are insects in Middle Earth, as we see examples of the midges and neekerbreekers and having poor Grima name 'Worm.' Surely some type of bug - so close to Mordor - would attack the wounds and flesh of the dying on the battlefield.
Where there's spiders, there must be webs, ergo, critters of all sorts to catch and feed upon.


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Originally Posted by davem
Thus, a line does exist as to what's acceptable & what isn't - 'Fantasy' as a genre does not = anything goes. We expect certain standards to be maintained, certain boundaries to be upheld.
The justification or explanation of the limitations to published work of any genre is whether this work promulgates or incites hatred towards a person or an identifiable group of people, not whether it falls within or without the moral tenets of a particular ideology or faith. Perhaps you might wish to work on an argument whether this includes Pullman's god or not, since you seem to enjoy bringing up Pullman so often in this discussion.

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And who determines those 'grounds'? Who decides what questions can be asked & which questions (or perhaps questioners) are verboten?
*sighs* It's either the author's Fairy Godmother or those angels and demons that sit, one on each side, of readers' shoulders.

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I don't see how an honest depiction of war excludes 'arresting sttrangeness'
Leaving aside that word "honest", the use of which has been refuted many times earlier on this thread to at least my satisfaction, I thought you have been arguing lo! these many posts that Tolkien's depiction of war is strange. Have you changed your mind now or is this just more of your spin doctoring?
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Old 03-18-2009, 02:21 PM   #218
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Does the word 'worm' as it applies to Dragon-kind appear in LotR?

There's a single reference (as far as I remember) to Scatha the Worm - Merry's horn comes from his hoard.
Also in the Hobbit (on the map, the Great Worms of the Withered Heath; and BB's reference to Smaug as an "old Worm.") And of course Farmer Giles is full of 'worms'.
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Old 03-18-2009, 03:43 PM   #219
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The justification or explanation of the limitations to published work of any genre is whether this work promulgates or incites hatred towards a person or an identifiable group of people, not whether it falls within or without the moral tenets of a particular ideology or faith.
And that would apply if the 'person' was Hitler, or Torquemada, or the 'identifiable group of people' included Nazis, White Supremacists, suicide bombers...? Or are certain 'identifiable groups of people' excluded?

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Leaving aside that word "honest", the use of which has been refuted many times earlier on this thread to at least my satisfaction,
I'd say it has merely been rejected...
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Old 03-18-2009, 08:55 PM   #220
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The justification or explanation of the limitations to published work of any genre is whether this work promulgates or incites hatred towards a person or an identifiable group of people
No. No no no no no no no. No, no, NO. I will go to the mat opposing the false, pernicious and tyrannical false dichotomy between free speech and 'hate speech,' the tool of despots. No power, prince, potentate or Certified Victim Group gets a veto over any expression or opinion whatsoever. Not now, not ever.

“If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.” - Noam Chomsky

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." --George Orwell

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." — C. S. Lewis

And JRRT: "I am not a "socialist" in any sense - being averse to "planning" (as must be plain) most of all because the "planners", when they acquire power, become so bad ."
-- and the most awful crime of the planners is the determination of which thoughts and opinions must be 'planned' out of existence.
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Old 03-19-2009, 12:34 AM   #221
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In the wider fantasy context - this is interesting - Disney's new moviehttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz...TE-prince.html

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One disappointed fan wrote (sic): 'I think it's sad that he is white because its saying that black love isn't good enough and that black men could never be princes.

‘Disney had the perfect chance to make its first black prince, but instead it decided to go the controversial route.'

Another complained (sic): ‘I am very disappointed and I wished Disney had made the prince black,(and the ironic thing is the prince in the movie is white but the evil voodoo villain is voiced by a black actor and is black).’

Since announcing their plans for the first black princess in 2006 the production of Hollywood studio's 49th animated film has been dogged by racial controversy.

Originally called The Frog Princess, its heroine was to be a chambermaid called Maddy working for a spoilt white debutante in 1920s New Orleans.

But the storyline sparked a backlash from critics who claimed it reinforced prejudice and demeaned black people.

The princess’s original name was perceived by some to be a stereotypical ‘slave name’ and she was also a maid working for a wealthy white boss, which was criticised as being racially insensitive.

Even the New Orleans setting for the film was questioned as it had overtones of voodoo and slavery.

Disney has insisted its choice of a black princess was part of a policy to give characters as much diversity as possible.
Now, one could put forward all kinds of objections to these comments - starting with the 'bleedin' obvious' one that there were no black princesses in 1920's New Orleans (or black princes for that matter) but there were a surfeit of black maids - so in terms of historical accuracy the original script was 'truer' - & if a maid, then working for a wealthy white boss is hardly pushing at the bounds of reality.

One could go further & point out that there were (& still are) white princes, so that the fact that the prince in the story is white is again still within the bounds of likelihood. Further, just as there were & are white princes in this world there are black villains. So, nothing in the original script or the finished movie are 'untrue' as such.. One could even point up the fact that this 'black' princess is actually (if one sets aside skin colour) a 'European' princess - her dress, her lifestyle, even the house she lives in, are European in origin. Yet there are no objections being raised to the fact that 'European' culture is being presented as superior to 'African'.

Thus, it seems that in order for this movie to tick all the right boxes both the princess & the prince must be black - despite the fact that that would have been impossible in the New Orleans of the 1920's - & the villain should have been a white magician (or a white black magician - if you see what I mean). Or, in short, for the movie to be acceptable it must bear no resemblance to the facts as known.

But its fantasy, so any relation to reality at all is not a requirement. Mind you - it does have a talking frog (albeit one that is an enchanted white prince) so we mustn't push the demand for realism too far. Howevah...The objections to the movie are actually demanding a recognition & acknowledgement of 'facts' - that to present a young black woman as a servant to a rich white boss is more demeaning even than presenting her as a European princess, & that black men in a democracy have as much right to be princes as white men. And that white men can be black magicians.

Hence & thus, there is a demand that certain truths be present & fully acknowledged in this fantasy, but an equal demand that other truths be ignored. And that, I would say, is the core of this discussion.

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Old 03-19-2009, 08:36 AM   #222
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And that would apply if the 'person' was Hitler, or Torquemada, or the 'identifiable group of people' included Nazis, White Supremacists, suicide bombers...? Or are certain 'identifiable groups of people' excluded?
Since you are so eager to learn about Canadian law, which was what I was referencing, here's a link that explains it: when hate is a crime It's a contentious law--as William Cloud Hicklin's post makes clear, so I'll also post this link: Parliamentary Information and Research on Hate Propaganda

However, the existence of the law serves the function in this discussion of proving that not just fantasy but all writing is subject to legal limits to what is allowed.


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I'd say it has merely been rejected...
You say to-mah-to and I say to-may-to.

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But its fantasy, so any relation to reality at all is not a requirement
This statement ignores the quotations from Tolkien's OFS that set up two requirements for fantasy, credibility and arresting strangeness, which is the core of the discussion.
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Old 03-19-2009, 08:56 AM   #223
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Canadian law, which was what I was referencing, here's a link that explains it: when hate is a crime It's a contentious law...
That's putting it mildly, when it comes to the infamous "Human Rights" Commissions and the ghastly Section 13.

Just because some nation, even our close friend and neighbor, enacts a law more appropriate to Stalin's USSR, that doesn't make the conception legitimate.
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Old 03-19-2009, 11:44 AM   #224
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Sure; whatever...

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But its fantasy, so any relation to reality at all is not a requirement.

Hence & thus, there is a demand that certain truths be present & fully acknowledged in this fantasy, but an equal demand that other truths be ignored. And that, I would say, is the core of this discussion.
I don't think that 'truth' is the issue. The word I think to be more useful is 'plausibility.'

Some people are intellectually lazy; many not. Regardless, most do not take their conception of a thing or the world out every often, if ever, to see it really really works. We don't have time for that kind of in-depth analysis; sometimes we don't want to see where the analysis may lead. We pattern match, take shortcuts, use stereotypes, etc, all to get to the 'important' data or issue. Compromises are made fairly often.

Again, this isn't because people are stupid or lazy. I think that our brains are wired to screen all of the massive amounts of data that we are constantly receiving for relevance. Is it important? Do I need to look at something more closely? Or is there something else higher on the list? If so...

Sure; whatever...

We read about these toe-to-toe battles in Middle Earth, and if we thought about it, as davem may have pointed out maybe once or twice, it's a real visceral ugly abattoir-kind of event. But we're more interested in Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn and the like and so when Faramir's wounded are retreating back to the Gate, are we thinking about the guy with the compound fracture limping along as his life pours from his wound? Or do we gloss over that possibility to see what happens next?

Sure; whatever...

Anyway, a writer can write whatever he or she or it (hate to be specisist), and if the work works, is plausible, we can overlook where reality is cruelly tread upon because the work has crossed the plausibility threshold, and so issues with the same drop down on the priority list; superseded, mayhap, by questions such as: is this a good story, regardless of the genetic background of the protagonist? Is it sating the need I have to escape the world of reality for a moment before I drift off into sleep each night?

Sure; whatever...
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Old 03-19-2009, 09:37 PM   #225
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I'm getting into this discussion late- after very many valid points have already been made.
If it's still being considered whether Tolkien was right in sanitizing the battle scenes, I should say "yes".
I, for one, am well aware of the realities of medieval combat- how could a sword fight realistically end, but with one combatant being either killed, or wounded so grievously as to be taken prisoner or maimed permanently? Losing digits and limbs during the fight was quite common, and a lust for carnage and blood colored the behaviour of many of the warriors- far from the commonly held view of the noble champions of chivalry who lived for the defense of Lady and Crown.
Tolkien does give us a small taste of this:

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Then the Captain of Morgoth sent out riders with tokens of parley, and they rode up before the outworks of the Barad Eithel. With them they brought Gelmir son of Guilin, that lord of Nargothrond whom they had captured in the Bragollach; and they had blinded him. Then the heralds of Angband showed him forth, crying: 'We have many more such at home, but you must make haste if you would find them; for we shall deal with them all when we return even so' And they hewed off Gelmir's hands and feet, and his head last, within sight of the Elves, and left him.
The Silmarillion Of the Fifth Battle

And along similar lines:

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....the enemy was flinging into the City all the heads of those who had fallen fighting at Osgiliath, or on the Rammas, or in the fields. They were grim to look on; for though some were crushed and shapleless, and some had been cruelly hewn, yet many had features that could be told, and it seemed that they had died in pain; and all were branded with the foul token of the Lidless Eye.
ROTK The Siege of Gondor

That's fairly graphic in itself, and I think that was enough to get across to the reader that war is not a clean, glamorous business. More detail would have been pointless-description for its own sake which did nothing to enrich the story, and would lead one away from the more important elements.
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Old 08-18-2011, 06:02 PM   #226
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Its not, I think, that Tolkien glorifies war so much as 'sanitises' the rough end of it. One example that springs instantly to mind is the death of Boromir. The fact that he dies pierced by arrows means that when Faramir sees the Elven boat bearing him pass by he looks as if he is sleeping peacefully & thus even in death he retains dignity. He does not die on the recieving end of an Orc poleaxe which takes off half his face so that Faramir sees him looking like he died an agonising death, choking on his own blood & broken teeth . We don't encounter any of our heroes with ugly, badly healed facial wounds.
I've thought of this often and always intended to respond to this post, since I read the myth of Cuchulainn. (sp?) The seminal mythic story in regard to this Celtic hero is that he goes into a berserker rage and single handedly kills a whole army, leaving bodies six deep on the battle field. The story is told in a way that revels in the gory details. Compare this to tales from the Nordic mythos. There is violence, but there is not revelry; rather, tragedy. The details serve to heighten the emotional intensity of the story rather than excite one to revel in the amazing (and happy - for the hero) effects of a berserker rage on the hero.

In other words, it seems to me that what is being called "realism" here is not actually more real than a so-called "sanitised" description. Tolkien writes in an essentially Nordic mode, if you will, because that's the kind of story he is writing. It is not Celtic in the sense of reveling in gore.

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Old 08-31-2011, 04:33 AM   #227
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So, is it right, or acceptable, to demand that Fantasy shouldn't explore certain ideas - if those ideas challenge, or attack, certain values or beliefs? HDM, apparently, has been removed from the libraries of some schools because of its 'message'.
I should not think so. After all, George R.R. Martin (why is his name so darn LONG?) has pretty much come up with a fantasy that has more blood, gore, dishonesty, sex, rape, etc. than any other till date (correct me if I am wrong). I believe moral ideas can (and to a certain extent, should) be challenged to the extent that people can stretch their minds a little, but not so much as to actually encourage people to start killing each other

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And the question is, because Fantasy is the purest use of the human imagination, is it right to set limits on it, & refuse readers/movie-goers access to certain secondary worlds, or should there be no limits on what can be imagined? Isn't that the purpose of Fantasy?
Fantasy may be the 'purest' use of human imagination, but that is not to say it is completely pure. We base fantasy on reality, mainly because it would take up too much time and effort to make up a billion new rules for the story. Whether it is 'right' to set limits on it is debatable, but it certainly would be very hard to not put limits on it! Also, some people might find the prospect of reading books about talking jam-tarts a little disconcerting.
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Old 08-31-2011, 08:41 AM   #228
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So, is it right, or acceptable, to demand that Fantasy shouldn't explore certain ideas - if those ideas challenge, or attack, certain values or beliefs? HDM, apparently, has been removed from the libraries of some schools because of its 'message'.
I should not think so. After all, George R.R. Martin (why is his name so darn LONG?) has pretty much come up with a fantasy that has more blood, gore, dishonesty, sex, rape, etc. than any other till date (correct me if I am wrong). I believe moral ideas can (and to a certain extent, should) be challenged to the extent that people can stretch their minds a little, but not so much as to actually encourage people to start killing each other


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Originally Posted by davem
And the question is, because Fantasy is the purest use of the human imagination, is it right to set limits on it, & refuse readers/movie-goers access to certain secondary worlds, or should there be no limits on what can be imagined? Isn't that the purpose of Fantasy?
Fantasy may be the 'purest' use of human imagination, but that is not to say it is completely pure. We base fantasy on reality, mainly because it would take up too much time and effort to make up a billion new rules for the story. Whether it is 'right' to set limits on it is debatable, but it certainly would be very hard to not put limits on it! Also, some people might find the prospect of reading books about talking jam-tarts a little disconcerting.
You know, I am quite confused here. It seems to me that the one making "demands" and setting "limits" on fantasy has been– davem himself. Wasn't his main argument in fact that writers should feel obliged to depict certain topics only in a particular "approved" way? Did he suddenly switch sides, or what?

–I will say this on the subject of fictional violence in general: I don't think any camp gets to take the moral high ground. "All graphic, all the time" is hardly some kind of default "righteous" position. Someone can argue that buckets of gore in a story will teach the audience just how bad violence is...sure... but then someone else can come along and argue that all it will do is harden them and perhaps give them a taste for it– or is pandering to a taste already there. Not saying I necessarily agree with this point of view, either, but I think it's about as valid as the other. (Which is to say, I'm not sure that either is all that valid.)

Me? Oh, I don't know, I think mostly people just like what they like– and sometimes feel the need to construct elaborate moral and theoretical frameworks to justify it.
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Old 08-31-2011, 09:43 AM   #229
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People will read what they want to read, will think what they want to think, and will do what they want to do with it.

Although the latter is the domain that society obviously has real concern about since what is done affects others, said society may decide that it has a vested interest in prevention of those things it deems worth stopping, and may take measures to discourage thinking about such things.

Obviously, if someone never is exposed to sado-masochism, rape, murder, you name it, his chances of thinking about it are greatly reduced, and thus his chances of acting on it are as well. Each society has to decide for itself where to draw the line. And you can bet that in a free society, someone is going to "raise cain" no matter where the line is drawn.
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Old 09-08-2011, 07:26 AM   #230
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Look, lmp, I really don't know how influenced people are by what they see or read– I don't think it's just a "monkey see, monkey do" thing. I'm just pointing out that the case for the moral superiority of depicting violence as graphically as possible isn't exactly water-tight either.

After all, when even spambots are using an argument, you might want to rethink...
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Old 09-08-2011, 07:52 AM   #231
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Originally Posted by littlemanpoet View Post
People will read what they want to read, will think what they want to think, and will do what they want to do with it.

Although the latter is the domain that society obviously has real concern about since what is done affects others, said society may decide that it has a vested interest in prevention of those things it deems worth stopping, and may take measures to discourage thinking about such things.

Obviously, if someone never is exposed to sado-masochism, rape, murder, you name it, his chances of thinking about it are greatly reduced, and thus his chances of acting on it are as well. Each society has to decide for itself where to draw the line. And you can bet that in a free society, someone is going to "raise cain" no matter where the line is drawn.
I'd also note that both artists and audience have their own visions and world views on how various realities work or ought to work. Tolkien knew what he was doing. He walked his own line between the beauty of fairie and the ugliness of war. How does one measure the distance between Lorien and the Dead Marshes? I'm not going to second guess that line. This isn't to say that other writers and other audiences don't have other themes.
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Old 09-08-2011, 10:06 AM   #232
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Look, lmp, I really don't know how influenced people are by what they see or read– I don't think it's just a "monkey see, monkey do" thing. I'm just pointing out that the case for the moral superiority of depicting violence as graphically as possible isn't exactly water-tight either.
Actually, I agree.

Well said, Blantyr
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