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Old 06-14-2005, 02:26 PM   #1
Bęthberry
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Question That good night: gift or punishment?

I'm not really enamoured of starting threads, but Lalwendë has suggested this topic might make a good Books discussion, so I shall offer it in the hopes that I don't have to nurture the thread along.

The idea derived on Kath's Movies thread, "Death Portrayal". Most of us are aware that within Tolkien's Legendarium, death is said to be the gift of Illuvatar to man. This is a very different attitude towards death than that in Tolkien's own faith, where death is viewed as punishment for the sin of disobedience (or as a consequence of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) and thus something to be feared. I'm not sure how far a discussion would go into some of the implications for this difference, but I will copy some of the initial posts which got me thinking and then I'll just let everyone jump in--or not, as you all choose! The posts discussing the movies I won't copy here, as they belong to the topic in Movies.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ar-Pharazon

The perception of death as a gift by Illuvatar to the mortal kinds is lost during the dark years of Melkor/Morgoth's reign in middle earth. Morgoth's creates a fear of death throught the slaying of the three kins and using death as tool to punish them. This twisted the perception of death for them. Men become fearful of death (ie Numenor invades Valinor to take immortality, because their king (my username) fears his impending death).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
Well, I'm going to ask a question which is in part inspired by Ar-Pharazon's post.

One of the aspects of the Legendarium's ethos which has always intrigued me is this idea that death is a gift. In pagan belief, death appears to have been represented as a part of the cycle of life, with the goddess of three aspects representing both fertility and death. (I say 'appears' as there are many forms of belief in the pagan, pre-Christian world and likely this is an overgeneralisation.)

Death certainly was not a gift in the Christian ethos which Tolkien believed in; it was/is punishment for the sin of disobedience (if I am understanding this correctly) or was a consequence of learning, of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If death is a punishment, then it becomes something to be feared, especially with dark predictions about torment in hell for people who have not behaved according to the required mythology.

What might Tolkien have been trying to suggest in calling death a gift? Is Ar-Pharazon correct in attributing to Melkor this twisted fear of death? Was Tolkien just writing a good story or was there something profound in what he wanted to say about attitudes towards death?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
This is a nice poser, Bethberry!

I think that this belief has much to do with the idea that the body itself returns to the Earth, returns the nourishment and energy it has gained whilst alive. Much pagan belief also places great importance in the sense of the earth as our Mother, so in effect we are born from her and then return to her. This is possibly why so many barrows and other tombs have small entrances and bear a resemblance to female anatomy; and linked to this are landscape features with names that hint at past reverence as 'mother' figures, such as Mam Tor, or the Paps of Jura.

In Tolkien's world, the spirit of Men leaves Arda at death, which is different to what we know of Pagan or ancient beliefs. Although, I cannot be sure of all the older beliefs, as I have the feeling that the Egyptians may have had something similar in that souls went into the stars?

Anyway, broadly generalising it seems that pagan beliefs see souls as part of the earth while Christian beliefs see souls as apart from the earth. The latter is akin to what happens to Men in/from Arda, but the former is akin to what happens to the Elves.

This has got far away from the original question though, but it would make a great new thread perhaps?
And now, over to you, Downers...
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Old 06-14-2005, 02:44 PM   #2
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Great thread - was actually considering creating the same thread, yet haven't had the time nor sure...hmmm...exactly how to tell why I've considered the same.

But here goes anyway.

I'm losing my father to terminal cancer (we need not address this further). Each day that we get to talk, or that I get the chance to sit with him is a gift as we don't know how much longer we will have together. After sitting with him on one 'less than good' morning I started thinking about death being a gift. There have been times that he's wanted to just say "enough," and be done with it, but he is doomed to ride it out to the end. What a gift indeed if you could just lie down and fall asleep for one last time?

Anyway, Aragorn's death was not only a gift, as he bought extra active years by surrendering his last few (possibly) enfeebled years, it was also his last test of faith. He now had all that he ever wanted, but could either stay around until each day was misery (and who knows what effect that this would have had on the Fourth Age - something akin to leaving the One Ring unmade in the Third?), or trust in Iluvatar and let it all go - Arwen, his children, Middle Earth, all - and see if Melkor or Iluvatar told the truth.

Surely there had to be some formula or rules regarding the 'gift.' To lighten up a bit, what if, when Aragorn was a young man, when appearing in front of the elven court his tunic dropped and he was left standing in his undergarments? Surely he would just want to die! but obviously he wouldn't (one would hope).

Did this same gift protect those captured by the enemy, as then they could say "enough" and be done with whatever torture they no longer wished to endure. Somehow I don't think that it worked that way either.
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Old 06-14-2005, 03:01 PM   #3
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I'm having a hell (HAHAHA) of a time putting my thoughts on this into words, so if this comes out curt and more like an outline, cut me some slack. It's also been a while since I've read the material I reference.

According to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, it was held by some Men that their original nature was as immortals, like the Elves. Andreth related to Finrod that Melkor had tempted the early Men and they "fell from grace" and thus inherited death. Sound familiar? They misunderstood this "gift" of death, or feared the mystery it contained, and one might take this as Tolkien's own commentary on death and the attitude of humans toward it. Really, death granted Men a destiny that was unique from that of the Elves, but it was also a mystery that they had grown to fear, probably due to an unfamiliarity with--or mistrust of--their creator and origin.

This piece reconciles Tolkien's mythos with the Christian "mythology" of Adam, Eve, Satan, and death-through-sin by attributing it to a secret tradition of Men born from envy of the Elven lifespan. By doing this, he also critiques those who fear and resent death (by wishing for immortality) by saying, in effect, that they feel that way only because they do not understand death. Tolkien calls it a gift because he believed in a resurrection to life in Heaven, with God. Many readers equate Aman with heaven, but that is not where God (Eru) dwells. We can surmise, I think, that since Middle-earth is intended as an ancient mythology of our own world, the fate of Men was to be with Eru himself, although Tolkien presents it in his mythos as a mystery that Men considered "less" than immortality.

On a side note, what Andreth didn't consider was that without these unique fates, Men and Elves would simply be the same race. The connection to nature and the magical qualities of Elves come from their enormous lifespans and the nature of their fear.
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Old 06-14-2005, 03:10 PM   #4
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alatar: I can't rep your post until I dole out some more to other peeps, but unfortunately there aren't many good posts in the forums I read. Nice post, anyway.

You're right. The death of Men was a gift in that it was a release from Arda. They weren't doomed to persist as long as Arda did, as the Elves were. The Elves would "die," spend time in purgatory, and be reincarnated--endlessly, until the end of Arda.
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Old 06-14-2005, 11:45 PM   #5
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Sorta in tandem with obloquy....

Is the Gift of Men actually death?

Personally, I should say that the Gift of Men isn't so much "death" as it is "release" and "freedom".

Completely tied up with the mortality of Men is their freedom from the fate of the Music of the Ainur. As Tolkien says, as time wears on, even the Powers shall envy it.

Is death the gift itself, or is it the manifestation of the gift, the way in which the gift is made possible?
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Old 06-15-2005, 12:46 AM   #6
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sorta me too?

To quote myself from elsewhere:

Quote:
Originally Posted by HerenIstarion
The brevity of their lifespan in later works is associated with the Fall (as a race), for "wise among men" hold that in the original design Men were meant for life indestructible - union of fëa (of Eru) and hröa (of the matter of Arda) so unbreakable that it would be able to lift, bring up the matter, i.e. thing temporal, to the eternal world of flame imperishable. (elves in this scheme are supposed to function as a kind of memory cells - to remember and remind others of the first world, when the Arda Remade is brought into being) But men are so weakened by their fall that death is given to them as a release (thus Tolkien's conception of Fall and Death as a consequence both differs and calls up at the same time to Christian myth, were death is a punishment, and at the same time, a release)
Why release? (To nitpick a bit from posts previous- not a total release from Arda as such, release from this particular form the Arda is in now) Because, falling into the same driving pattern of all legendarium, and namely:

Quote:
And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined
The death of Men is a means through which Arda Remade will be achieved, thing other (and better) than Arda Unmarred would have been.
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Old 06-15-2005, 01:28 AM   #7
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Silmaril

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry
This is a very different attitude towards death than that in Tolkien's own faith, where death is viewed as punishment for the sin of disobedience (or as a consequence of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) and thus something to be feared.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil
Is death the gift itself, or is it the manifestation of the gift, the way in which the gift is made possible?
At first, death was seen as a punishment, yes. But as obloquy pointed out, this is not how we (I having the same faith that Tolkien had) view death anymore. Now death is actually something to be looked forward to, but not necessarily grabbed at an inopportune time (i.e., suicide). Because of what Someone did around 2000 years ago, death can be seen as the precursor of the reward for a life "lived well" on earth, an escape from the less-than-perfect existence here on earth. Death is also considered as the end of life's "first phase," and the rite of passage from life on earth to an eternal life in heaven, which is the actual reward - similar to how childbirth is an infant's exit from life inside his mother's womb to his life independent from his mother. The case in Middle Earth is the same, I believe. The gift of Men, I think, is a perfect, eternal life with Eru, and the fact that they are not bound to the Music.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
Anyway, Aragorn's death was not only a gift, as he bought extra active years by surrendering his last few (possibly) enfeebled years, it was also his last test of faith. He now had all that he ever wanted, but could either stay around until each day was misery (and who knows what effect that this would have had on the Fourth Age - something akin to leaving the One Ring unmade in the Third?), or trust in Iluvatar and let it all go - Arwen, his children, Middle Earth, all - and see if Melkor or Iluvatar told the truth.
This reminds me of how the kings of Numenor who rebelled against the Valar refused to lay down their lives while they were still strong and relinquish the throne to their heirs. I can't exactly remember who and what, but I think in The Unfinished Tales there are quite detailed accounts of what happened to them. One thing I can remember, though, is that some "misfortune" entered their lives, or the lives of the people around them, as a result...as if the Valar (or Eru himself) tried to show them that it is wrong to hold on to your life when it is time to let go of it. But I wonder, would they still receive the full extent of Eru's gift?

And how come Morgoth seemed to have some hold on the lives of Men? If I remember right, he forbade death to claim Hurin's life while he (and his family) was under the Dark Lord's curse. Any thoughts?

EDIT: In view of HI's quote (the last one), is this the answer to my question above? That because Morgoth can in no way alter the Music, and the Men are not bound to it, he is given some control over their lives? Somehow I don't think so...

Last edited by Lhunardawen; 06-15-2005 at 01:40 AM. Reason: cross-posted with HI
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Old 06-15-2005, 02:01 AM   #8
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Quote:
That because Morgoth can in no way alter the Music, and the Men are not bound to it, he is given some control over their lives? Somehow I don't think so
And rightly so!

For I have an answer to that ready too Strike the lights on:

Melkor did pollute Arda two times - first when he put part of himself into its matter, and secondly, when he tempted human kind into its Fall

Even without the Fall, it is arguable that men came out lesser than their fate would be without Morgoth's Ring (term used to mark his taint in all matter). Such a taint is considered the main reason for Elves' fading, for their fëar and hröar, originally designed to coexist in harmony from start to end of Arda, grew in disaccord with each other, fëa, being the stronger of the two, burning out the hröa. But whatever the individual cases, the Elves were not fallen as a race.

Now men, having Melkor's taint in the very matter of hröar of theirs (same as elves), and assuming that fëar and hröar affect each other, made a second breach in their defence (it is arguable that they were more gullible to Melkor exactly because of original taint he put into matter) by actually denying Eru in Melkor's favour.

Mark who grants death at the exact moment of the Fall. It is a Voice (of Eru)!

The logical conclusion: having hröar under partial control by Melkor, Men willingly put their other half, up to that moment free of him - their fëar under same control. Death in this respect comes in indeed as a Gift (though it may seem a punishment for those who deemed themselves (and probably were) eternal, but is, in fact, a release - denying Melkor his prey, letting it slip to where he would not be able to get it, at the very moment he thought himself victorious, and, at the same time, providing other means to achieve the same goal - eternety in union of matter and spirit, granting also that final result would be better than original design. (Another probable point is that, since this double fall, men were so weakened, have they had longer lifespan, most of them would inevitably turn to Melkor.)

Release from Bondage (very pointedly chosen to be an undertitle for Beren and Luthien story) is one of the right terms to apply here.
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Old 06-15-2005, 07:35 AM   #9
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A very quick reply

Good point. Very interesting.

When I saw this thread, I thought of how certain individuals approached death. To some, it's a gift, to others it's a curse.

What I find most realistic in Tolkien's approach of death is that he does not exagerate its 'benefits': yes, it is a 'gift', but some openly call it 'bitter', or find some sarcasm in that term. Remember, I am talking about how characters perceive death, not how death is supposed to be viewed (as explained by H-I). So it's not exactly all songs and joy, like in some pagan beliefs, nor mournfully Gothic. The 'model' characters have a very 'healthy' attitude towards death, that I think (okay, stretching a bit here) mirrors Tolkien's own, as a good Christian and a man at peace with himself and the world. For instance, take Aragorn's dying words that sum this attitude perfectly:
Quote:
In sorrow we must go, but not in despair.
This seems to suggest: we are plunging into unknown; we aren't exactly heading into the Elysian Fields, but we're confident enough about the quality of the life we led so as not to wake up in 'hell' either.

Sorry I don't have time to expand right now, maybe others will continue on these scattered ideas.
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Old 06-15-2005, 08:45 AM   #10
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I think that one's perspective regarding death being a gift or a curse might have to do with the person's (both observer and the one who passes) age/maturity. A life cut short, like that of a child, is harder to bear than that of one who had lived a full life.

As a child and young adult, one might wish for a deathless life. As we age, this view may change as one starts to fit less into the ever emerging new world. And as age, gravity and disease begin to take its toll on the body, one might want to just let go and be free.

Aragorn, like the rest of us, really had no way of knowing what happens afterwards, even though he had evidence (from the Elves). It was his last and bravest act when he placed that first foot into the unknown - was he throwing away years of his life, as nothing awaited him, or was his act of obedience not only an example to others but also assuring him the gift?
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Old 06-15-2005, 11:37 AM   #11
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If death, as we know it, is the consequence of the Fall, in Catholic and/or Athrabeth terms, how can is also be seen as the Gift of Men?

I was sort of wondering that as I read Lhuna's post, and this stood out for me:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lhunardawen
Death is also considered as the end of life's "first phase," and the rite of passage from life on earth to an eternal life in heaven, which is the actual reward - similar to how childbirth is an infant's exit from life inside his mother's womb to his life independent from his mother. The case in Middle Earth is the same, I believe. The gift of Men, I think, is a perfect, eternal life with Eru, and the fact that they are not bound to the Music.
If the Gift of Man is an early departure from this world (compared with the Elves or Ainur), then perhaps the consequence of the Fall wasn't so much the fact that Men must now depart from this world, but that Men must die to do so.

Thinking about Eden (if I may use this Christian term to refer to pre-Fall Man), I have to wonder if Eru intended Man to be immortal therein. After all, Eden was apparently here on this earth, and yet the Gift of Man (present from the Musis itself) is to release Man from this world. Perhaps there was to be, in Eden, a transition at some point from the earthly paradise of worship to the heavenly paradise of worship.

In this perfect world, Arda Unmarred, perhaps the intention was that Man would naturally, after time in this world, pass on as easily as a traveller, without the pain and agony associated with death. Perhaps in pre-Fall forms, the entire Man, body and spirit, would leave the Circles of the World at the time of release, instead of the painful sundering of body and spirit that we now call death.

Remember, with the Elves the sundering of body and spirit in death is unnatural, and ultimately (either in this world or in Arda Remade) the Elves are to be rehoused. The same would appear to be true for Man, once he dwells in Arda Remade. Perhaps the original intention was for Man to journey from this world to the world beyond body and spirit, like the Elves, the Gift of Man being, of course, a much earlier transition.
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Old 06-15-2005, 02:15 PM   #12
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Is it general knowledge, and for some reason I just can't find the same (laziness, perhaps ), but do all humans receive the Gift, meaning the escape from the confines of Arda or to be with Eru? Or is this limited to the virtuous and obedient? Would Denethor, Bill Ferny, the Mouth of Sauron etc all escape?

And, personally, I prefer the death as a Gift idea over the death as a result of the Fall concept (or whatever the right word should be). One shows that there may be light at the end (even nonexistance might be preferable to dying by a thousand slices), was put in place for me, while the other has a chance of eternal damnation and was due to another's poor judgment.
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Old 06-15-2005, 02:23 PM   #13
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I started a thread on Death in Tolkien's works a long time ago, which ended up focussing mainly on the Elves attitude to Death, but I think some interesting ideas came up along the way.
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Old 06-15-2005, 03:13 PM   #14
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a little bit of theology....

Death, as defined by Christian theology, is separation from God.

When Adam and Eve fell to temptation, according to the mythology (true myth for those who wish to see it that way), they became "dead in sin". That is to say, they had begun to suffer separation from God because they had done what God said they must not do.

The cessation of physical function in a human is the physical manifestation of Death. The non-physical manifestation (if one may call it that) is the soul's/spirit's experience of reality as apart-from-God. To any who hunger for God, this is tantamount to eternal starvation rather than salvation.

The Death as described above, is what the Someone changed about 2000 years ago.

So Death is no gift, understood in this way, could never be, and is not, I think, what Tolkien is talking about. I don't think he meant the cessation of physical function as the Gift of Death to Men. Nor do I think it's mere release from the trammels of this life.

The Christian view looks forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth, in which human bodies and spirits have been re-created to live, in-God, for eternity. Perhaps the gift Tolkien writes of is nothing more, nothing less, than the hope for something more beyond the circles of Arda.
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Old 06-15-2005, 03:44 PM   #15
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This will again seem like I'm on my hobby horse, but I think we have to restrict ourselves to the way in which death can be seen as a 'gift' within the context of Middle earth. In Middle earth there is no account of what happens to men after death. They die & leave the circles of the world. That's it. No-one knows what happens to them - or even if anything does. It is implied that there is a continuation in some form, but of what kind is an open question.

So, how can death be seen as a gift within Middle earth? Men are not bound by the Music, so can change the world, in a way that other races/beings cannot, they can therefore 'think outside the box'. Yet they have a love of Arda - different from the love of Arda of the Elves. They have a desire to remain within the world, yet a curiosity about what may lie outside it. Men are called the 'Guests' by the Elves, because they only spend a little time in the world. In a sense they don't belong in the world & for all their love of it, they know that. Men know they have a different destiny - they are created with a desire for other things, for reasons only known to Eru. They have a central part to play because of that destiny.

Maybe that is the reason death is called a 'gift' - not death itself but the role they have within Arda of which death is a part - a central, essential, part, but a part nonetheless. Death is the means by which they fulfil their role.

Whatever we may say about Men within Middle earth they were not Christians, because they couldn't be. So, whatever hope Christianity offers Christians it is not relevant to Men in Middle earth. Their role & purpose, their 'gift', has nothing to do with Christianity. Aragorn accepts his 'gift' & leaves the world when it is his time, not because he is a Christian, but because he is a man in Middle earth.

In short, I don't think Christianity can offer an explanation of Death as a 'gift' to Men in Middle earth. If the secondary world is to stand alone & not require a primary world explanation for it to make sense - in which case applicability will cease to work & allegory be the only viable alternative - the answer to this question will have to be found within Middle earth, not outside it.

Or to put it another way, in this context (alone) the Christian understanding & explanation, is a cop out...

Last edited by davem; 06-15-2005 at 03:50 PM.
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Old 06-15-2005, 04:00 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
In short, I don't think Christianity can offer an explanation of Death as a 'gift' to Men in Middle earth.
I do believe that you and I are saying the same thing in our own way. Nice to agree with you finally again.
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Old 06-15-2005, 05:37 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
Is it general knowledge, and for some reason I just can't find the same (laziness, perhaps ), but do all humans receive the Gift, meaning the escape from the confines of Arda or to be with Eru? Or is this limited to the virtuous and obedient? Would Denethor, Bill Ferny, the Mouth of Sauron etc all escape?
All humans receive the Gift of Death (although it seems to be much delayed in some more than others), but what happens to the spirits of Men after the departure from Arda... who knows?

Tolkien indicates that release from Arda is a welcome thing for those who have lived good lives: Beren, Luthien, Elros, Aragorn... But I don't recall any statements about those who weren't so good. Certainly the Mouth of Sauron dies (and so receives the Gift of Men), but we are not told if his lot in the afterlife is comparable to that of Beren or Luthien, say.
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Old 06-15-2005, 07:24 PM   #18
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Old 06-16-2005, 01:18 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by davem
This will again seem like I'm on my hobby horse, but I think we have to restrict ourselves to the way in which death can be seen as a 'gift' within the context of Middle earth. In Middle earth there is no account of what happens to men after death
Ah, davem, it seems like a high time to bring my own mount of choice to race you in this Derby. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with discussing inside the ME bounds, I have several bones to pick, and maybe even gnaw at with you

Per instance, why should not we see Death as a punishment and a gift at the same time? Even not drawing in Primary World references, Atrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth hints at possibilities of viewing it thus, as, you no doubt, remember, as seen here

Indeed, it is a Punishment – severance of the body and soul, which was not originally designed, is a pain in itself. It is a gift, gift of freedom, for unless the soul should be let go, the whole combination goes under Morgoth. Whatever lies beyond (and is unknown or unkown fully), is an option better to becoming thrall to him. Besides, whatever comes from Eru, is considered to be for the good of his Children (stated as such by Finrod, so far for textual evidence):

Quote:
If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy
Indeed, the whole existence is His gift, as Eru is free and has no need to give:

Quote:
Note 1 to AFaA

The Eldar held that Eru was and is free at all stages
Brief aside concerning the kind of freedom Men have:

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Men are not bound by the Music, so can change the world, in a way that other races/beings cannot, they can therefore 'think outside the box'
Last time we’ve been through this, I have had another option. I stand by it still: the freedom (of will) of all rational beings lies in the choice they are given, as the ultimate Freedom is with Eru:

Quote:
'As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. 'Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'
Therein lies the story: given the same ruler of Good and Evil, all Children should measure with it their actions in similar way, and the freedom is in the process of measurement, not in different ruler. But one can not measure the same length with same ruler and come out with differing numbers? There is nothing special about humans in this respect apart from the mode of their death. But death is not their freedom per se, it is their fate! And according to Finrod’s guess (and that being only textual evidence withing ME so only reliable source) it is through their death that they bring change. Add to that vague references to probable Incarnation of Eru made in the same conversation, and you get another option for a Death to be a gift: it is a gift of Freedom (from Morgoth) right now, but in the future, it may become the gift of Creation (of the new world – Arda Remade). So it is gift now and greater gift potentially. (hum, 2gifts-1punishment=1gift? but that’s just a prank, do not heed )

Let's draw some logical chains:

1. According to Andreth, Men were designed to be immortal eternally, not bound by Arda’s fate.
2. Since separation of fëa and hröa is thought to be unnatural, in back reasoning, they were meant to lift the matter along with their spirit to some new level of existence
3. They fell. Death came as a release for them from Morgoth (so is the Gift in itself), but as it brought [unnatural] separation of fëa and hröa, it is at the same time a punishement. But the ‘gift part’ of it is greater – it a) grants them freedom from Morgoth b) makes their fate ‘fulfillable’, though modifies the mode of its achievement c) promises ‘third thing and greater’ – Eru Himself entering His own creation (Incarnation) and remaking of Arda

Even if Morgoth hoped for the outcome of the Man’s Fall when he contrived it to benefit him, and even if it was Morgoth’s design to have human fëar separated from their hröar (assuming he was aware of their fate and thus was planning to disrupt the Plan), he was defeated by the general principle (And thou, Melkor, shalt see...). That gives Finrod ground for joy, as he exclaims:

Quote:
This then, I propound, was the errand of Men, not the followers, but the heirs and fulfillers of all: to heal the Marring of Arda, already foreshadowed before their devising; and to do more, as agents of the magnificence of Eru: to enlarge the Music and surpass the Vision of the World!
For that Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater, and yet the same.
And, since Men, despite they did fall, are still set on the task, and if the means of fullfilling it is their death as opposed to whatever the original design planned, than Death is a Gift! Is not it enough for the death stand of its own (as a gift) withing the secondary world?

Analogy (warning: quite a crude one) I’m nearsighted. Spectacles I wear are my punishment, as they rub the bridge of my nose red at times, I keep on forgetting them in the bathroom, my sporting activities are restricted to jogging or swimming, as the playing of football or tennis bears certain risks of getting them shattered right on my face. But, and grave ‘but’ at that, they are more Gift and blessing for me than a suffering, as with these on, I can see, thus fullfilling the destiny my eyes were devised for, unless the Fall in the face of my crystalline lens’ bad behaviour came about!

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Maybe that is the reason death is called a 'gift' - not death itself but the role they have within Arda of which death is a part - a central, essential, part, but a part nonetheless. Death is the means by which they fulfil their role.
Yes, yes and yes! Your ‘maybe’ caused the whole previous paragraph, all in all
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Old 06-16-2005, 02:01 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HI
(hum, 2gifts-1punishment=1gift? but that's just a prank, do not heed )
I think there's actually a point there...somewhere.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HI (again)
Even if Morgoth hoped for the outcome of the Man's Fall when he contrived it to benefit him, and even if it was Morgoth's design to have human fëar separated from their hröar (assuming he was aware of their fate and thus was planning to disrupt the Plan), he was defeated by the general principle (And thou, Melkor, shalt see...).
Now here's the contradiction on Morgoth's part. I see that as long as Men would stay alive, there is a chance for him to sway them over to his side and keep them from Eru. But why in Arda did he resort to killing Men during the Battles of Beleriand? Seems to me Sauron knew better - he urged the kings of Numenor to sail West to pursue immortality.
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Old 06-16-2005, 09:30 AM   #21
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Did I miss something in the Silmarillion in regards to the 'Fall' of mankind?

And, to be a bit silly, Eru allows humans to escape the confines of Arda in order that they might escape the fate of being the subject of a movie sequel by Peter Jackson and company; something that in time even the Powers may envy ("Hmmm, just how can we make this Silmarillion story more exciting...let's make it 10 jewels, add a back story of a romance triangle between Manwë, Varda and Melkor, leave out that Eru guy as he's not really important to Tolkien's main theme, add a few belching Dwarves and we might just have a hit! ").

And now back to the serious discourse.
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Old 06-16-2005, 09:41 AM   #22
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What you may have missed, alatar, is called Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, and it is found in HoMe X.

H-I: When reading the Athrabeth, did you not get the impression that Andreth was reporting a belief that was not necessarily true? It seemed to me that she was relating a myth that was held by Men out of envy of the Elves. It has been a while since I've read it, now; however, as I recall, Finrod did not swallow her revelations on Man's fall whole.
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Old 06-16-2005, 05:03 PM   #23
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Thinking around the issue of whether death is punishment or gift, what happens to Men who do not die? Who are these Men? There is Earendil, but he is fated to ride in his ship for ever - and he is half-Elven. The Ring Bearers are permitted to travel to the Undying Lands but we do not know what their fate might be. Tuor is the only known figure who does become immortal as the Elves are immortal, and this is speculative.

Who else gives up the gift of Death? The Nazgul. These were once mortals, but now they are fea without a hroa, they are houseless spirits. This is a reversal of what happens when a mortal dies, that their fea leaves the earth; instead, the Nazgul remain, but without their bodies.

In the following words, spoken to Eowyn, it seems that the WK is talking of a choice she can have, a choice between simple death, or something else:

Quote:
A cold voice answered: 'Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.'
What is interesting also in these lines is that the WK makes mention of 'the houses of lamentation'. Is this some kind of alternative Halls of Mandos? A place where, instead of fea and hroa being brought together again, they are permanently separated? If death is Eru's gift, then it might logically follow that Morgoth/Sauron might seek to take that gift away. For them to simply kill Men is no punishment at all, they must keep Men alive in some way.

So in this sense, Eowyn is either extremely brave or utterly foolish to stand in his way. In a very real sense, she could face a fate worse than death.

I remember Eomer of the Rohirrim saying many months ago that these lines were chilling, and they are! If we think of what the Nazgul are, and of what happens to the Ringbearers (at first living hale lives like Bilbo but then declining into wretched figures like Gollum), their fate is horrible enough, but from what the WK says, this can be done by other means. Whether done slowly or quickly, it still seems disturbing. It does bring to mind the horror of the Oblation Board in His Dark Materials and what they do to the children and their daemons.

So, apart from the odd example of Earendel, and the possibility that Tuor escaped 'Death', the only mortals we know about who escape death are the Nazgul and anyone they might send to 'the halls of lamentation'. It seems that death is indeed a gift from Eru looked at in these terms.
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Old 06-16-2005, 05:13 PM   #24
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The Ringwraiths were not houseless fear. They could still interact with physical objects, and their physical garments still found a surface to drape over, so there's no reason to believe they were truly immaterial. I think they simply had badly perverted hroar made invisible by the same magic that allowed The One Ring to confer invisibility.
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Old 06-17-2005, 01:59 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by obloquy
H-I: When reading the Athrabeth, did you not get the impression that Andreth was reporting a belief that was not necessarily true? It seemed to me that she was relating a myth that was held by Men out of envy of the Elves. It has been a while since I've read it, now; however, as I recall, Finrod did not swallow her revelations on Man's fall whole
It did. But the reasoning is simple: the only text discussing the matter presents certain theory. Even if it is doubted by one of the participants, we have no other textually backed theory to lean on. We lean on what we have.

Besides, in the part discussing the destiny of men, just before he comes out with This then, I propound, was the errand of Men... etc, Finrod's heart 'leaps with joy' - an indication of recognition of truth.

It is not that hard to elaborate thence and get the essence of my posts above

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Originally Posted by obloquy
The Ringwraiths were not houseless fear. They could still interact with physical objects, and their physical garments still found a surface to drape over, so there's no reason to believe they were truly immaterial. I think they simply had badly perverted hroar made invisible by the same magic that allowed The One Ring to confer invisibility.
Nail hit on the head, I daresay
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Old 06-17-2005, 05:17 AM   #26
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A bit silly, but when I first read that conversation between Eowyn and WK, I thought WK was merely scaring the daylights out of Eowyn with no intention (nor capability, possibly) to make good his threat.
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Old 06-17-2005, 07:17 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by obloquy
The Ringwraiths were not houseless fear. They could still interact with physical objects, and their physical garments still found a surface to drape over, so there's no reason to believe they were truly immaterial. I think they simply had badly perverted hroar made invisible by the same magic that allowed The One Ring to confer invisibility.
Except Tolkien calls them Ringwraiths, & a wraith is defined by Dictionary.com as:

Quote:
1:An apparition of a living person that appears as a portent just before that person's death.
2:The ghost of a dead person.
3:Something shadowy and insubstantial.
Definition 3 is the problem. Tolkien knew very well what the word wraith meant. As to their ability to impact the physical, that is a problem, but not beyond another, 'magical' explanation.
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Old 06-17-2005, 09:27 AM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Except Tolkien calls them Ringwraiths, & a wraith is defined by Dictionary.com as:



Definition 3 is the problem. Tolkien knew very well what the word wraith meant. As to their ability to impact the physical, that is a problem, but not beyond another, 'magical' explanation.

I don't see any reason to quibble with Tolkien over a definition. It's true that he did not fully flesh out the details of his Nazgul, but I don't think they fall too far outside that definition for us to take issue with him. After all, many people would equate invisibility with insubstance anyway. That said, the fact is that the Ringwraiths were not wraiths in the strictest sense of the word. They could not pass through walls and they could wear clothing. Additionally, they had to rely on physical locomotion and were hampered by those same factors and forces that affect any physical Man or Elf. Although I've never seen it discussed, it seems to me that a true spirit's method of locomotion would be instantaneous, since I can't imagine what speed restrictions could be placed upon a disembodied consciousness.

Of course, I haven't spent much time in the spiritual realm, ROLF!!!!!!!
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Old 06-18-2005, 05:15 AM   #29
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It's also inconceivable how mere spirits could fear water or even drown in it, if mere spirits are what the Nazgul are.
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Old 11-13-2005, 11:40 PM   #30
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Been putting this one off for a while; been busy, been distracted, but anyway...here goes. And I'm hoping that this ties into the thread somehow.

My father, as stated earlier in this thread, lost his fight with cancer this summer. He remained at home to the end, and so I was able to be with him some of those last months and days. His body got progressively worse, but his mind stayed as sharp as ever. He realized that the tube that was feeding him was only feeding the cancer, and it gave him no comfort, and so one day he made a similar decision to that of King Elessar - to let go instead of trying to hold on to each drop of life.

That was a hard day, as I knew that at that point the clock was ticking, and it was only a matter of time - sometimes knowing biology isn't that fun. I think that he was concerned that if he didn't make that choice while he was still cognizant that he might get so debilitated that he would not be able to make his wishes known. Can you imagine that? It's like pulling the trigger on a gun where the bullet doesn't hit you until a week later. Also running through his head, besides being tired of his life, was that he was a burden to the family - more and more each day - and I think that he wanted to end that too.

Surely I wanted him to stay as long as he could, but also I respected his decision to leave. We never had one of those 'good bye' scenes like you see in movies, but we each knew what was happening. Maybe like Arwen, up to then I was like, "yes, it's terminal, but this is my father, whose family is long-lived, and we have many days/months/years ahead of us." It's like I knew, but was disconnected from the truth. He was dying, and soon would be dead. Gone. No more a voice on the phone or even a man lying in bed.

Reality showed up.

He let go, and less than a week later was gone. Like Aragorn, he made sure that his kingdom was in order before going. Unlike Aragorn, my father was leaving pain for either somewhere better or at least somewhere were pain did not exist.

I miss him now and then, but what makes me sad is knowing how much my children miss their 'pap.'

Sorry, but just had to go there as I can't help but sometimes relating this to Aragorn's decision.
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Old 11-14-2005, 01:10 AM   #31
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I am sorry for your loss, Alatar.



You may not want to read my post, since it will offend some of you.



On the subject of death, I can't believe it to be a gift. Look at the world today. Is death something we look forward to? Do we hold celebrations for those who have died?(Not like the Day of the Dead, mind you.) Death is not something great, death is a malefactor.

If a man murdered my neighbor, would there be celebration? Would my neighbor still go around happily? No. He would no longer be able to do what he once did, to be with who he loved. His family would be distraught for all time and suffer from it. Death is more of a curse than anything. Even in Middle-Earth death was a malefactor. Take Aragorn's death. Though he passed on in peace and of old age his death still had a damaging effect on those around him; we all know the tale of Arwen. Theoden's death may have held honor and was prideful, but most of Rohan and Gondor felt only sadness. I believe Eru's gift had changed very much by the time men had entered the world.

Like I mentioned before, if my neighbor was killed there would be no celebration or happiness among the family, nor would his murderer feel bad. The man who murdered him would most likely be happy that he was dead. The man would not fear a higher presence. He would believe his victim to be gone forever and incapable of gaining revenge. To be honest, he would be right.

If a man was defending one that he loved and was killed, he would not be happy. He would be nothing more than a whisper on the wind who had failed to do what he had tried to accomplish. His loved one would die and their killer would most likely be joyful that they were no longer in the world.

I just can't see death as a gift. Sorry.
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Old 11-14-2005, 10:48 AM   #32
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I just can't see death as a gift. Sorry.
I understand what you are saying, but see it in this context: Assume that the Middle Earth world as created by Eru exists. In this world Death is given as a gift to man by God as a release from the confines of the world, and somewhere it is stated that even the Powers will envy this freedom. Aragorn, in this world, lived his entire life by the dictates of Eru, unlike many of his Númenóreans ancestors. And at the end of his road he had the choice to continue the path that so long ago he had chosen, or to fall aside like Isildur and Ar-Pharazôn. Aragorn faced many trials, and this one was the the biggest and the last. By his decision to lay down his life, even though he was giving up some days, weeks, years, he validated his life and hopefully that of his offspring. Aragorn set an example as king, that even though he had everything to lose and nothing to gain, that in faith he would do the right thing. If he were truly going on to something better, why not 'sacrifice' the material for the spiritual (or whatever Eru had waiting)? Eru didn't make man to stay; we are to travel on. Aragorn took that last trip freely.

Somewhere in all of that I see Aragorn yet again denying the Ring - control, dominion and possession of people and things - for true freedom.

In the case of my father, each day was worse than the day before. It was a death by slices. Even the smallest sip from a cup of coffee, something that he probably drank for 60+ years, caused pain. Now, I'm not exactly sure as to his beliefs, but to him death was a release from all of the suffering, so in that context too it was a gift. And like Aragorn, he actively chose to lie down and let go.
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Old 11-14-2005, 11:03 AM   #33
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Thank you for sharing your experience, Alatar. Your father was a man of true nobility, someone worthy of the respect and love that your words on this thread bear out. It seems to me that his son is not different than the father.
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Old 11-16-2005, 11:43 PM   #34
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Well, I've read through the thread, and there is so much that I would love to agree or disagree with that I don't know where to begin.

First off, people have said that 'death' is either a gift or a curse. Well, that's a matter of view, and that view not of only death, but also how life is looked at.

Life is a gift. That cannot be taken for granted. But since there is an afterlife, death is also a gift. You could almost see it as a move. You pick up, take all important things with you, leave some things behind, and go to a new place. Some people hate moving, and are even afraid to replant themselves. They would see it as a curse. Others see that it's like a fresh start, a new experience that can be fun.

But the people who think of death as a curse are like that because they believe that here(life) is better than there(afterlife). They value their current life over whatever may be after death. People who are unafraid of death usually believe that there is something better beyond the passing. Some even look forward to when they will die, because of anticipation of what comes next.

This is where the line is drawn between those who believe death is a curse and those who believe it is a gift. In Middle-Earth, death brings a man closer to Eru. This is probably a better place than Middle-Earth is, so it should be looked forward to, because it is an escape from bad to good. But the people who are attached to their life in Middle-Earth will scorn death because they think they are already in the better place.
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Old 11-17-2005, 08:08 AM   #35
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Let me offer my condolences also to Alatar, even though late. As the psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has shown, there are stages to the process of dying.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gurthang
In Middle-Earth, death brings a man closer to Eru. This is probably a better place than Middle-Earth is, so it should be looked forward to, because it is an escape from bad to good. But the people who are attached to their life in Middle-Earth will scorn death because they think they are already in the better place.
I wonder if we can look more closely at how this topic is presented in Tolkien. For instance, where in Tolkien's books is it stated that "death brings a man closer to Eru"? Eru is not named in LotR, so where is this idea developed? I had thought that Tolkien does not explicitly establish in his Legendarium where men go after death.

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Old 11-17-2005, 10:20 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Bêthberry
I wonder if we can look more closely at how this topic is presented in Tolkien. For instance, where in Tolkien's books is it stated that "death brings a man closer to Eru"? Eru is not named in LotR, so where is this idea developed? I had thought that Tolkien does not explicitly establish in his Legendarium where men go after death.
To my knowledge, there is no mention of Eru in Aragorn's death scene. In the Silmarillion (Of the Beginning of Days ?), I know that it's spelled out that Eru gives the Gift of Death to Men and that Melkor perverts this knowledge so that instead of accepting this gift, men fear it. Can't remember any text regarding death drawing men closer to Eru, and think that this is Christian theology bleeding into the text.

And I like the mystery as presented by Tolkien regarding the location of men after they depart the confines of Arda. As it's stated that "even the Powers" will envy the Gift, it seems like a great gift indeed. Unlike all others, we are free, truly free agents bound for elsewhere. Also, this sets up the life of Man, as we are the travelers, the strangers, and we live our lives not content with the status quo. Think that this is a common theme regarding the nature of Man. There's just something in us that wants to know 'what's over there.' Not that that's always a good thing, but we definitely (as a whole) are not embalmers like the elves.

So, in short, with a few statements Tolkien not only sets up the death of Man, but also Life.
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Old 11-18-2005, 03:44 AM   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry
...where in Tolkien's books is it stated that "death brings a man closer to Eru"? Eru is not named in LotR, so where is this idea developed? I had thought that Tolkien does not explicitly establish in his Legendarium where men go after death.
Aragorn states that beyond the circles of the world is more than memory. (appendix, Aragorn & Arwen)
Also, somewhere, Tolkien says that men will join with the Valar in the second music of the Ainur. Can't remember where I saw it, but that sounds to me like "closer to Eru". I admit it's an extrapolation.

(Edit) on googling, it's in the Sil; end of ch 1 of Quenta Silmarillion.
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Old 11-18-2005, 08:23 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by mark12_30
Aragorn states that beyond the circles of the world is more than memory. (appendix, Aragorn & Arwen)
Also, somewhere, Tolkien says that men will join with the Valar in the second music of the Ainur. Can't remember where I saw it, but that sounds to me like "closer to Eru". I admit it's an extrapolation.

(Edit) on googling, it's in the Sil; end of ch 1 of Quenta Silmarillion.

"more than memory" does seem to me very much an interpretation, as you say, Helen. And that Silm passage posits that greater music shall be played at something which could equally be construed as some sort of apocalypse or end of time rather than at death. Certainly "choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Illuvatar" does not suggest a personal rapproachment of the individual Child with Iluvatar after the Child's death. It's possible, of course, but such conjecture remains conjecture.
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Old 11-18-2005, 05:35 PM   #39
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It would certainly be at the "End of Time" rather than at an individual's death. But I can hardly imagine Eru being absent as the second music of the Ainur is made. And making extrapolations which are within a normal Catholic's normal frame of reference hardly seems to me to be much of a stretch. The author was what he was.
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Old 11-18-2005, 07:23 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by alatar
I know that it's spelled out that Eru gives the Gift of Death to Men and that Melkor perverts this knowledge so that instead of accepting this gift, men fear it.
I suddenly find this point very interesting. Not because it's wrong, because I agree with it.

Say that Men did view death as a gift. Would it not make sense that they would then 'give' this gift to themselves at any given time. With the knowledge that they would be drawn closer to Eru, who would not want to just get on with that stage of existance? If they truly saw death as a gift, then none of them would live very long at all.

And that's where the fear comes in. Since they are afraid of death, they certainly don't want to be 'given' that gift. The fact that it is displeasing to them actually keeps them alive longer, which I assume is what Eru wants. If he did want all men to be swiftly drawn to him, would he not just bring them to him immediately? Rather, he put them in Middle-Earth for a reason, and them fearing death is what keeps them there until whenever they are supposed to leave.
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