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Old 08-29-2004, 08:04 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril ‘The Workhouse’ – Tolkien’s Purgatory

Leaf by Niggle is, at least to my knowledge, Tolkien’s only work which dwells upon the Catholic concept of purgatory. Now, I’m a Christian, but not a Catholic, so this doctrine is quite foreign to me. I have no wish to accept or adopt it, since I see no Biblical basis for it, but I would like to explore it in order to understand Tolkien better. (There has been previous discussion of this work on the Autobiographical Tolkien thread, but I’d like to concentrate on this specific aspect, hence a separate thread.)

Here’s what the story tells us about purgatory (though it is never called by that name):

1. Empty-handed arrival – Niggle lost even the little bag with paint-box and sketches that he had grabbed at the last minute to take with him.

2. Unpleasant treatment – The environment is very unfriendly and devoid of human warmth and fellowship; here’s how it’s described:
Quote:
The medicine they gave him was bitter. The officials and attendants were unfriendly, silent, and strict; and he never saw anyone else, except a very severe doctor, who visited him occasionally. It was more like being in a prison than in a hospital. He had to work hard, at stated hours: at digging, carpentry, and painting bare boards all one plain colour. He was never allowed outside, and the windows all looked inwards. They kept him in the dark for hours at a stretch, ‘to do some thinking,’ they said.
3. Long stay – Though Niggle lost count of time, it felt like it was at least a century, probably longer.

4. Corrective purpose – He did not feel better, only worrying regretfully about the past, and felt no pleasure. However, he felt that he was perhaps becoming useful and gained a feeling of satisfaction, “bread rather than jam”, in his more efficient use of time.
Quote:
He could take up a task the moment one bell rang, and lay it aside promptly the moment the next one went, all tidy and ready to be continued at the right time. He got through quite a lot in a day, now; he finished small things off neatly. He had no ‘time of his own’ (except alone in his bed-cell), and yet he was becoming master of his time; he began to know just what he could do with it. There was no sense of rush. He was quieter inside now, and at resting-time he could really rest.
5. Change for unknown reason – He was suddenly subjected to hard manual labour with little sleep, ending in total exhaustion and the need for complete rest.

6. Debate of the Two Voices – He overheard Voices debating on his fate, voices I would call ‘Law’ vs. ‘Grace’, as they sound similar to some passages in New Testament epistles. The First Voice was severe, bringing all of his negative characteristics and past deeds into the discussion. The Second Voice was more gentle and hopeful, though still authoritative. It pleaded his case with the words, “His heart was in the right place,” (The First Voice’s answer amuses me: “His head was not screwed on tight enough.” ) and went on to add up the positive points that spoke for Niggle. The moment of Eucatastrophe for me is when the First Voice says, “But you have the last word.” Grace prevails over the Law!

7. The next stage – The end of captivity and passive submission/resignation, the end of corrective punishment; entrance into freedom, exploration and new creativity, as well as fellowship and friendship.
Quote:
Niggle woke up to find that his blinds were drawn, and his little cell was full of sunshine. …comfortable clothes had been put out for him, not hospital uniform. After breakfast the doctor treated his sore hands, putting some salve on them that healed them at once.
All is full of light, joy and beauty. Purgatory ends, Paradise begins.


My admittedly vague notions of purgatory are of a punishment preceding entrance into heaven. Tolkien adds a corrective purpose to that, making it a place where character traits lacking in real life are added to round off the personality. Is it for that reason that he sees it as a necessary stage of the after-life, even for a redeemed Christian like himself? I don’t understand why Grace takes effect only after a long period of punishment, as grace waives punishment in my understanding of Christian doctrine, but apparently he saw it that way.

I’d be interested in hearing what Catholics who know more about the doctrine of purgatory have to say about it, as well as the opinions of others on this concept in Leaf by Niggle. Also, are there any passages in other works, HoME or ‘Letters’ perhaps, that deal with purgatory, or does anyone see a shadow of something similar in LotR?
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Old 08-29-2004, 08:58 AM   #2
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I've always ataken the Halls of Mandos as the Middle earth equivalent of Purgatory.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Esty
My admittedly vague notions of purgatory are of a punishment preceding entrance into heaven. Tolkien adds a corrective purpose to that, making it a place where character traits lacking in real life are added to round off the personality. Is it for that reason that he sees it as a necessary stage of the after-life, even for a redeemed Christian like himself?
As I understand it (not being a Catholic either), that isn't Tolkien's addition, but the whole purpose of Purgatory. Purgatory implies a 'purging' of faults, & a perfecting of the individual.

Quote:
I don’t understand why Grace takes effect only after a long period of punishment, as grace waives punishment in my understanding of Christian doctrine, but apparently he saw it that way.
I don't see this - if it were the case that grace worked in that way then what part does the individual play in the process? What about the necessity for repentance? Surely repentance requires that the individual be purified, usually by experience, & I can't see that it matters whether that purificatory experience comes during life or after death. If the individual is not so 'purified' by experience, how would they realise they needed grace? The problem with the protestant approach, to put the opposing case,(& I'm not a protestant, either) is that there is no second chance, no opportunity to review one's deeds in life & try & make amends.

Let's say Niggle's story had been a protestant allegory - Niggle would have been judged on his actions in his earthly life only, with no opportunity to take stock & make himself fit to go on to the mountains. As he was when he took his 'journey' he would never have been able to get to them, let alone over them to what lay beyond.

Whatever, Niggle's experience is necessary for Niggle, which is the point. Perhaps he was in heaven already, but didn't realise it, & his 'purgatorial' experience was actually his awakening to it, & realisation that he was already 'there'.

In the end though, Tolkien was a Catholic, & Catholics believe in purgatory, so if Tolkien was going to write a story about dying & what comes after, purgatory would be part of it.

Of course, its not exactly the Catholic purgatory, as Niggle is not aided in his process by the prayers of those in the world - he must get through it under his own steam.
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Old 08-29-2004, 09:53 AM   #3
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Tolkien throwing off this mortal coil

I will have to reread Leaf by Niggle, Esty, before I can reply at length here to yours and davem's discussion, but for a Catholic statement on purgatory, here is a link to the online Catholic Encyclopedia.

Possibly an entry closer to the teachings Tolkien would have received (and we should beware the automatic assumption that he held no independence of thought concerning the theology he was taught) would be found in the 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, which expresses Church doctrine and ideas before the reforms of the Vatican Council. That, of course, is not available online but only in libraries. Fascinating reading at times, especially in comparison to later editions of the encyclopedia.
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Old 08-29-2004, 09:54 AM   #4
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Esty,

IMO Tolkien had the only appealing outlook on purgagory that I've ever encountered-- except for George MacDonald's long sleep. And MacDonald was not catholic...

Tolkien said that Frodo's trip to Valinor was both a reward and a purgatory. Letters, of course (ducks flying objects from the canonicity thread.) Now that my books are all nicely arranged on my cleaned-up re-org'd shelf, I know right where to find them... I'll return to this after lunch.
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Old 08-29-2004, 11:14 AM   #5
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Quote:
I don’t understand why Grace takes effect only after a long period of punishment, as grace waives punishment in my understanding of Christian doctrine, but apparently he saw it that way.
It is perhaps a mistake to view this as punishment. It could be corrective and I would not equate correction with punishment. Something like Niggle being in the shop for repairs. Grace was what allowed him to proceed on to the Workhouse, even though he had not brought any of the required luggage. However, receiving Grace did not make Niggle entirely ready for what was to come. Niggle was not ready for Paradise because he perhaps could not understand it and not fully appreciate it. He had to go through the Workhouse to have a final reshaping of his mind. It is interesting to note that, if anything, Niggle developed a more practical outlook during his stay.

Quote:
What about the necessity for repentance? Surely repentance requires that the individual be purified
Not necessarily. Repentance is more of the realization of the need rather than requiring a purification process to get to it.

Quote:
If the individual is not so 'purified' by experience, how would they realise they needed grace?
If Niggle had been purified already he would not need the Grace. Purification sort of eliminates the need for repentance.
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Old 08-29-2004, 11:16 AM   #6
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Thanks, davem, for the reminder on the 'purge' in purgatory - you're right, though it seems to me that it occurs by fire, as metal is purged of impurities. I wonder how that would fit in with Tolkien's idea of purgatory as drudgery?! work = fire? Bb, thanks for that link - I'll check it out before I get into any deeper waters in this discussion! I look forward to a closer look at that 'Letters' reference, mark/Helen!

edit - Cross-posted with Kuruharan - thanks for those thought-provoking comments!
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Old 08-29-2004, 11:43 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Quote:
Esty:
I don’t understand why Grace takes effect only after a long period of punishment, as grace waives punishment in my understanding of Christian doctrine, but apparently he saw it that way.


It is perhaps a mistake to view this as punishment. It could be corrective and I would not equate correction with punishment. Something like Niggle being in the shop for repairs.

Quote: Davem
What about the necessity for repentance? Surely repentance requires that the individual be purified


Not necessarily. Repentance is more of the realization of the need rather than requiring a purification process to get to it.
Much to consider here; but allow me to define a few terms so that readers will know from whence I come. Esty, I expect some variance between our definitions, perhaps you would like to clarify yours as well.

Mercy vs grace:

Mercy is not getting what I deserve. I break the law; I deserve to be punished; mercy isdisplayed when the judge chooses not to give me the punishment I fairly deserve.

Grace is getting what I don't deserve. I haven't earned any food; you feed me. I haven't shown you any loyalty; you welcome me into your family. Grace is displayed when gift is freely given without regard to merit: "Unmerited favor".

Given these definitions, protestant theology holds: "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." The scriptures state we cannot earn that forgiveness, but can only accept or reject it. If we accept it, then our sin is taken away. It is a spiritual transaction, simple and complete. Hence, there is no punishment remaining.

Based on this, the childhood definition of purgatory that I grew up with-- purgatory is where you finish paying for the sins you comitted here-- simply makes no sense, and belittles the sacrifice of the messiah. If I can pay for my sin, why was he sacrificed?

On the other hand, what we do take into eternity (once we are stripped of our sin) is our character: as little or as much of it as we have developed in our years on earth. Tolkien's purgatory is geared , not so much toward punishment(although it is a dreary place to be sure) as it is geared toward character development. This is an entirely different discussion. Character development depends on the interaction of the soul with the grace of God; God gives the soul grace to grow in character.

This is why I say that Tolkien's purgatory is almost palatable. He does not belittle the sacrifice of the messiah; he merely desires to continue character development, to fill in what is lacking. While I see no scriptural support for his idea, I understand the heart behind it, and it is not one of false humility; it is one of wanting the best to give away.

"This day you will be with me in paradise" is still the decisive argument for me, and trumps all logic and storytelling of Tolkien and MacDonald combined. Nevertheless, I am as intrigued by Tolkien's view of purgatory as I am of MacDonald's-- not because I believe it or see scriptural room for it, but because I hear the heart-cry desiring nobility of character. That comes by grace; and the desire to prolong that period of grace is one I can understand.

And incidentally, that nobility of character is what Frodo sailed west to pursue. He did not need forgiveness; he had that. He needed healing, and part of the healing was enough nobility of character to see himself as he was: "in littleness and greatness." And that means, again, not so much mercy-- but grace.
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Old 08-29-2004, 12:02 PM   #8
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LETTERS:

p.198
Quote:
...For mortals... this is strictly a temporary reward: a healing and redress of suffering. THey cannot abide for ever, and though they canot return to mortal earth, they can and will 'die'- of free will, and leave the world.
("mortal earth" is not a typo, that is the correct quote. )

p. 328
Quote:
Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him-- if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually to 'pass away'; no mortal could, or can, abide forever on earth, or within time. So he went both to a purgatory and a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and gaining a truer understanding of his position in littleness and greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil.
Frodo's 'purgatory' does not sound like a punishment to me. Tolkien states as much in the following:

Footnote on page 386:

Quote:
She (Galadriel) Concludes her lament with a wish or prayer that Frodo may as a special grace be granted a purgatorial (but not penal) sojourn in Eressea, the Solitary Isle in sight of Aman...
p.411
Quote:
As for Frodo or other mortals, they could only dwell in Aman for a limited time-- whether brief or long. The Valar had neither the power nor the right to confer 'immortality' on them. Their sojourn was a 'purgatory', but one of peace and healing and they would eventually pass away (die at their own desire and of free will) to destinations of which the Elves knew nothing.
Tolkien specifically states that Frodo's 'purgatory' is one of peace and healing.
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Old 08-29-2004, 12:22 PM   #9
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But isn't the point of the Niggle story the nature of the subcreator? In Niggle's Parish the Tree is a 'given', but the rest, the perfecting of the place comes about as a result of Niggle's stay in the Workhouse. In other words, Niggle's Parish only comes into being because Niggle went through that purgatorial experience. Say all you want about the 'gift' of the Messiah, but if the Messiah gave us everything then we would have nothing uniquely our own to give ourselves. God is the Creator, creating the primary world, we are subcreator's & we create, in His image, secondary worlds. Niggle is purged so that he can become a more accomplished subcreator. The skills he learns in the Workhouse enable him to make his vision of the Tree & the Lands surrounding it 'real'. For Tolkien, it seems to me, what lies beyond the Mountains is not 'eternal bliss' but eternal (sub) creativity. And that subcreativity will involve work, suffering of a kind, in order to bring new things into being. Tolkien's paradise is not a place of rest, but of work.

From this perspective, 'Grace' isn't the issue. Grace is another thing, for another purpose. Leaf by Niggle is about the nature of subcreation, not salvation. Grace plays a part: ''Its a gift' he said.', (& in the Shepherd's invitation), but subcreation is a different thing - it doesn't depend on grace, or on being 'saved' - Melkor is a subcreator in that he wants to rearrange the world, he dreams of the world being different, & that begins as a plan, a 'secondary world which only exists (at first) in his mind. Any storyteller, 'saved' or not, graced or not, is a subcreator. Subcreation, for Tolkien, is part of our nature, inherited from our 'Father' - it is neither blessed nor cursed, its simply what we do. 'Leaf by Niggle' is about how Niggle comes to understand the nature of subcreation, & how to best make use of the gift (or the 'Grace' if you will).

So, as I said, the Workhouse is not Purgatory in the strict sense - it doesn't work in the same way, because its not designed to achieve the same thing.
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Old 08-29-2004, 12:46 PM   #10
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mark/Helen, thanks for both excellent posts! Yes, your definitions of mercy, grace and redemption coincide quite closely with mine. The explanation of Tolkien's purgatory that you have found for yourself makes it more understandable for me, though I still have to brush up on the Catholic definition to see how it compares to the 'official' church theology. The quotes from 'Letters' reinforce that approach, and the idea that the Halls of Mandos are the Middle-earth equivalent, as davem suggests, would also show a more lenient concept on JRRT's part.

davem, you go on from the 'Workhouse' purgatory to 'Niggle's Parish' Paradise. You know, I've always thought that heaven would be a boring place the way many people envision it, just sitting around - a sub-creative eternity sounds fascinating! Though the Paradise aspect wasn't part of my original topic in this thread, I have no objection at all to including it in the discussion!
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Old 08-29-2004, 01:10 PM   #11
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Interesting discussion, everyone. Just a very brief comment on something that was said in Davem’s previous post:

Quote:
. Leaf by Niggle is about the nature of subcreation, not salvation.
Davem, I am not an expert, but I’m wondering if we are making our lines too rigid. Subcreation is definitely operating here, but I see glimmers of salvation as well. I’m wondering if we’re constructing an artificial wall beween these two concepts that Tolkien would not have seen.

For example, at one point in Leaf by Niggle, while Niggle is lying in darkness in the Workhouse, I recall that he mentions hearing a severe “First Voice” and a gentle “Second Voice”. When Parrish thanks Niggle for helping to hurry his release from the Workhouse, Niggle replies:

Quote:
No. You owe it to the Second Voice…..We both do.
I’ve always thought the First Voice sounded like God the Father and the Second Voice like God the Son, and to me that holds echoes of salvation. It seems to me that Tolkien felt that the best subcreation, that which was true and pure, must have some spiritual content or value. I don’t mean that it has to be on an explicitly religious subject, but it must reflect the values that Tolkien saw as stemming from God’s creation plan. I cannot see Tolkien setting up an arbitrary line between salvation and subcreation. To him they were two reflections of the same fundamental truth. I do agree that a Paradise spent sitting around in eternal bliss sounds awfully boring and I would far prefer the sub-creation variety.

There is a lot of substance in Esty's first post. By focusing on Purgatory, grace, and salvation, I think we're only touching on part of it. Let me go away and hack at the computer and come back shortly.
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Old 08-29-2004, 04:35 PM   #12
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Question

davem

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And that subcreativity will involve work, suffering of a kind, in order to bring new things into being.
Why do you say that? Do you think the work itself is suffering?
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Old 08-29-2004, 05:53 PM   #13
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Esty -

Here I am plop in the middle of a theological discussion, but I'd like to consider this topic from a slightly different angle and examine one point you raised in your first post:

Quote:
Quote from Esty.....2. Unpleasant treatment – The environment is very unfriendly and devoid of human warmth and fellowship; here’s how it’s described:

Quote from book:
The medicine they gave him was bitter. The officials and attendants were unfriendly, silent, and strict; and he never saw anyone else, except a very severe doctor, who visited him occasionally. It was more like being in a prison than in a hospital. He had to work hard, at stated hours: at digging, carpentry, and painting bare boards all one plain colour. He was never allowed outside, and the windows all looked inwards. They kept him in the dark for hours at a stretch, ‘to do some thinking,’ they said.
This confinement does not sound pleasant, yet in its humble way Leaf by Niggle almost seems like a tiny reflection of grander themes that are splashed in much larger type through the Legendarium as a whole. Specifically, this includes such concepts as how difficult it is bring about change in human history and to eradicate evil from the world, and how such things can only be done (if at all) through great pain and sacrifice. This tiny little prison cell in Leaf by Niggle with all its forced limitations and hardships was a tiny piece of the bigger picture. Its purpose was not to mold history, but, a task just as difficult, to effect change in a single human soul. And Tolkien never saw that as easy.

Tolkien consistently shows us characters who must go through extremely painful experiences in order to grow and change. The one person most changed by the Ring quest is Frodo Baggins, and his path was the most unpleasant of all. Yet, all the other characters, especially the light-hearted hobbits, had to go through a certain amount of hardship in order to mature.

Perhaps, one reason for this is that Tolkien felt Man, even those who are labeled as “good”, stubbornly resisted change (perhaps something he saw in himself?) The best known example is the Elves who were, on some level, intended to exemplify certain aspects of our own race. But equally striking were the Men of Gondor who, in a manner similar to the Elves, simply wanted to restore the glories of the past. For them it was the glories of Numenor, and they are described as “a withering people whose only ‘hallows’ were their tombs" (letter 154).

It took a cataclysm – that of the Ring War— to finally prod the Elves into giving up their failed dreams and to push the Men of Gondor towards the Fourth Age instead of always dwelling on the past. So too, in Tolkien’s eyes, it takes a set of painful circumstances to get the individual to change. And I think that is one of the reasons he describes the confinement in such harsh terms (in addition to the theological questions that have already been discussed.)

In other words, those who have authority are not remiss if they are stern and strict and set up unpleasant rules and limitations to prod us into reflection and change for our own benefit. This is actually the feeling I got when Sam disciplined his children for complaining that they had to go to bed:

Quote:
“But that won’t be fair,” said both Merry and Pippin, who were not in their teens. “We shall have to go directly to bed.”

“Don’t talk like that to me,” said Sam sternly. “If it ain’t fair for Ellie and Fro to sit up after supper it ain’t fair for them to be born sooner, and it ain’t fair that I am your dad and you’re not mine. So no more of that, take your turn and what’s due in your time, or I’ll tell the King.”
In other words, rules are rules – whether in Middle-earth or in purgatory—even if unpleasant, and those above have the right to enforce them. This is not a particularly popular stance in much of modern culture.

And since Tolkien was a humble man, and was probably envisioning his own possible experience in describing Niggle, he assumed the worst: that he would need the very strictest of discipline. And that the First and Second Voice were simply setting up this confinement for his own benefit.
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Old 08-29-2004, 08:38 PM   #14
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Many thanks to Estelyn for starting this thread -- I just read Leaf by Niggle and loved it, and I knew that there was something deeper in it but not being Catholic I wasn't sure what. This discussion is very thought-provoking!

From the idea of purgatory as I have come to understand it, I think it makes perfect sense for this to be what Niggle is going through.

First he has the long journey, which he is quite reluctant to make.

Quote:
He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
This journey seems like a symbolic death, which Niggle knows is coming but doesn't want to face anytime soon. Since he has this great painting which is like his life's work, he fears that he will have to leave on his journey, or 'die,' before his work in life is complete. (This, indeed, happened to Tolkien, as he left so much of his great works unfinished.) But he is forced to go on this journey anyway, leaving everything behind (truly a statement that you "can't take it with you"!).

Quote:
He was never allowed outside, and the windows all looked inwards. They kept him in the dark for hours at a stretch, ‘to do some thinking,’ they said.
Basically all he is allowed to do is do dull, menial work that requires little to no thought, and then he's left for hours to just think. What else would he think about than his past, and all the things he's done wrong? He is not comfortable, but he is not maltreated either; however all the people are harsh and cold, which would make him think even less of himself and probably make him feel guilty even for bad thoughts he has had. Once he recognizes his 'sins' and comes to understand that he has done wrong in the past, the two Voices agree to at last release him into his paradise of his own creation, where his work has actually manifested into something tangible and perfect -- his own version of Heaven.
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Old 08-30-2004, 01:15 AM   #15
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Well, I'm not trying to set up a 'conflict' between salvation & subcreation generally, merely in the context of Niggle. I think a lot can be learned from Tolkien's poem Mythopoeia:

Quote:
The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seeds of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.


...Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.


...In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day-illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they no more look awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.
The whole poem can be found here: http://www.geocities.com/domachowski/mythopoeia.html & is really worth reading in conjunction with On Fairy Stories, if we want to understand Tolkien's idea of subcreation.

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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Why do you say that? Do you think the work itself is suffering?
Yes, in that it involves effort, struggle, application, but that's not necesarily 'bad'.
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Old 08-30-2004, 07:41 PM   #16
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What a great thread Esty, and what substantive posts from everyone so far. Reading through them I felt like I was back in Religious Studies 2201 again!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I would like to pick up on a point first made by davem (who is, by the by, I am now thoroughly convinced, a mind reader). I could not agree with you more, dm when you argue that “Leaf by Niggle” is about subcreation rather than salvation. The latter is too allegorical, and we all know how Tolkien felt about that, while the former is more applicable. Just look at the ways in which the tale has already been applied to Catholic and Protestant theology. (From what I know of other theologies – Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – I daresay I could make a good stab at including them in this discussion as well, but I shall forbear lest I demonstrate the extent of my ignorance.)

For me, the key line in the tale is one that davem has already cited (grrr…how am I ever to get ahead of you in rep if you keep doing that? ), but which I shall give again in full:

Quote:
Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt of guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.

‘It’s a gift,’ he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally (emphasis mine).
As we all know, Tolkien was very careful in his use of words, and he rarely uses one that he has not carefully and fully considered. The use of “gift” is then extremely telling I think, and just in case you are to miss that, he even does something remarkably un-Tolkienesque and announces that “he was using the word quite literally.” Being the terrible pedant that I am, I looked it up in (of course) the OED to see what the “literal” usage might be. I came up with two uses of the word “gift” that I think are most pertinent here.

The first is the one already discussed by Mark 12_30: the gift of the tree is a manifestation of grace. It’s something that has been freely given as a present, not earned or deserved, but simply something from one self to another to express love and companionship.

The other sense of the word at work here is the idea of one’s own “gift” – in this case, Niggle’s gift is for creating the Tree. In this sense, the Tree is his gift to creation as much as it is a gift to him. More precisely, because he has been given the gift of creativity, he is able to then turn around and use that gift to create something that adds to creation (subcreation). I think that this is what Tolkien means by his somewhat complicated statement that “He was referring to his art, and also to the result.” In this sense, the “gift” he has received is both – or at one and the same time – the result of something given that he has had no part in, and the result of his own creativity. He is passive in his relation to the giver of gifts, but active in his use of gifts, and the result is a gift that is all at once, a gift to Niggle from the creator, a gift from the creator to creation (through Niggle), Niggle’s gift to creation, and perhaps even Niggle’s gift to the creator.

This complicated interplay within the concept of the “gift” is also at work in the idea of grace. Grace is simultaneously something that one receives and possesses. The Tree is thus a manifestation of grace, and the result of Niggle’s own grace-full art.

One Last Point: this particular line (“‘It’s a gift,’ he said”), has always affected me as deeply as Sam’s “‘Well, I’m back.’” Both are moments of utter realisation and fulfillment, and both are simple, everyday occurrences – the recognition our heart’s desire lies not at the end of the Road, but within us. This beautiful sentiment is, perhaps, Tolkien’s gift to me.
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Old 08-31-2004, 07:33 AM   #17
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This complicated interplay within the concept of the “gift” is also at work in the idea of grace. Grace is simultaneously something that one receives and possesses. The Tree is thus a manifestation of grace, and the result of Niggle’s own grace-full art.
Fordim - When you put it in those terms, I think we are virtually on the same page. If you are more comfortable using "grace" rather than "salvation", I can heartily concur. I was definitely not trying to suggest that Leaf by Niggle was an allegory of salvation (or of anything else for that matter.)

Rather it is a question of how Tolkien thought: how he viewed subcreation. Everything we know about the author suggests that, in his mind, the concept of subcreation was intimately woven with that of "Truth". Mythmaking was an attempt to uncover what is "real" in the clearest way possible with the end product being what Tolkien termed "true myth". There was no artificial division between subcreation and grace/truth in his own mind, and I feel this same reality is reflected in the workhouse and Leaf by Niggle.

Tolkien, for example, utterly rejected Owen Barfield's claims that myth, although moving and beautiful, are mere lies:

Quote:
No said Tolkien. They are not lies.

Man is not ultimately a liar. He may pervert his thought into lies, but he comes from God and it is from God that he ultimately draws his ultimate ideals....Not merely the abstract thoughts of Man but also his imaginative inventions must originate with God, and in consequence reflect something of eternal truth. In making a myth, in practicing mythopoeia and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a storyteller.....is actually fulfilling God's purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.
The last line of this quote is the key and is part of the grand gift that we see at the end of Niggle. My concern, therefore, is that we not "split apart" that which was so clearly linked in Tolkien's own mind. When Tolkien refers to subcreation, whether in Niggle or in any of his writings, it is not in an isolated sense, but rather in the context of "true myth", the storyteller fulfilling God's purpose. I say this not as a Catholic, Protestant, or anything else in-between (since I am not a Christian), but merely see these ideas reflected in Tolkien's own reality. (You can blame Davem for all these references to "reality". For the past day, that term keeps pounding through my head.)
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Old 08-31-2004, 12:58 PM   #18
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I think certainly the intent & motivation of the subcreator have a 'divine' origin for Tolkien, but what is produced comes from the subcreator, not from God - ie, the subcreator is not simply parroting what he has been given. My reading of the Niggle story is that God couldn't have created Niggle's Parish - man is a 'co-creator' with God. Man's creation's are unique, & could only have arisen in his mind, as a result of his experience, & that this is God's intention. God may, from His position outside time, know what will be, but He doesn't cause it to be. Only Niggle could have brought his subcreation into being (if only because if God had been responsible it would have been creation, not sub-creation).

So LbN is the account of Niggle's perfection - he goes through the Workhouse in order to become what he was meant to be. He is made the most perfect subcreator he is capable of becoming. There's nothing in the story for me which implies that Niggle's eternal soul is in danger. There's no mention of hell, or damnation - the worst that could happen is that Niggle will remain in the workhouse until he is ready to leave. This seems, as I think about it, less & less like the Catholic Puragatory, & not even very much like the Halls of Mandos. Niggle is in the Workhouse for a purpose, & the purpose is revealed at the end to be the creation of Niggle's Parish, 'the best introduction to the Mountains'.

Niggle has a task to achieve, divinely ordained, & that is to achieve what in the end he does achieve - along with Parish. The question of 'Salvation' doesn't come into it at any point, nor does 'damnation'. Niggle's 'journey', like Sam's, of which (as Fordim points out) it is an 'echo', culminates in the bringing into being of a Tree, which becomes the wonder of the neighbourhood, an echo of what was & an indicator of what may be. Sam's Mallorn 'is' Niggle's Tree - both are responsible for its being there, but it belongs to neither of them, & once that 'gift' is given both are free to move on. Sam goes through a 'workhouse' experience of his own, through Mordor, & what he achieves at the end of his journey is not 'salvation' either, because LotR is not about the workings of 'salvation' either, & neither does it end in 'eternal rest', just more, (but better) work.
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Old 08-31-2004, 02:04 PM   #19
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Davem,

Again, I think we are coming full circle: we are saying similar things but using different language. I intially picked up on the word "salvation" because that was how you expressed the dichotomy in your own post: subcreation versus salvation. I should have been more precise and substituted a term of my own. (Fordim's use of "grace" is much better. )

My concern was to emphasize that subcreation for Tolkien is inevitably rooted in divine truth: there can be no absolute dichotomy. It is certainly his own creation, the efforts of his own hard work, and not something handed to him on a plate by anyone or anything, divine or otherwise. God is not responsible for subcreation yet he still plays a role, since the core of the myth must encapsulate and reflect some of that greater truth. Without that truth at the center, Tolkien would have seen subcreation as an empty act.

As to what the Workhouse actually is, I think that is open to differing interpretations, as so many things in Tolkien are. You make some interesting and strong arguments to divorce it from the Catholic concept of purgatory. Yet, leaving loaded words like salvation and damnation aside, did not the First and Second Voice play some role in deciding who stays in the Workhouse and for how long? Doesn't this imply some type of judgment (with a small "j") as to the fate of those inside, i.e, at what point they would be better off outside the Workhouse? If there is judgment involved, how would you regard this? In other words, what is going on with the First and Second Voice?

It's been too long since I've reread Niggle and I will try to find time to look at it again. Unfortunately, I've been juggling dozens of balls since the start of the new academic year.
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Old 08-31-2004, 02:28 PM   #20
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There's nothing in the story for me which implies that Niggle's eternal soul is in danger. There's no mention of hell, or damnation - the worst that could happen is that Niggle will remain in the workhouse until he is ready to leave. This seems, as I think about it, less & less like the Catholic Puragatory
I'm unaware that the idea of 'catholic purgatory' entails any risk of hell; if you were destined for hell, you'd go straight there. Purgatory is for believers who did not die in a 'state of grace'-- with sins completely cancelled. (How a believer could be in any state other than grace is another whole topic for me, and for other notable theologians-- catholic and protestant. However for the purposes of this discussion, unless I am quite mistaken, Tolkien would have been comfortable with that definition.)

Since folk seem to be tossing the word 'salvation' around, I should note here that one interpretation of 'salvation' is, to be made complete, or to be made whole; to be healed. This can apply to the spirit, the soul and/ or the body. (Think of Frodo, for instance.)

(In Tolkienish, one might call this harmonizing with The Music.)

There are those who talk of the 'salvation of the spirit' (conversion, transfer of ownership to God, seal of the Holy Spirit) versus 'the salvation of the soul' (character/virtue refinement and development of the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit.) While some feel that this is dividing hairs, I do not. Perhaps these terms might prove helpful in this discussion.
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Old 08-31-2004, 09:20 PM   #21
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davem

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Yes, in that it involves effort, struggle, application, but that's not necesarily 'bad'.
I guess I would have chosen a different word, but that is probably just me.J

Quote:
Sam goes through a 'workhouse' experience of his own, through Mordor, & what he achieves at the end of his journey is not 'salvation' either, because LotR is not about the workings of 'salvation' either, & neither does it end in 'eternal rest', just more, (but better) work.
Well, actually, in the end Sam does go to Valinor. I think that Sam might be more easily equated with Parish, who remained in Niggle’s Parish after Niggle departed. Am I suggesting that Frodo might be more easily equated with Niggle, well, maybe. (Don’t hold me to that though.)

Fordim

Quote:
I could not agree with you more, dm when you argue that “Leaf by Niggle” is about subcreation rather than salvation. The latter is too allegorical, and we all know how Tolkien felt about that, while the former is more applicable.
I am unconvinced that changing the subject matter to sub-creation makes the story any less allegorical. To my mind it is perhaps less high-flown, but no less allegorical. Could you elaborate?
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Old 09-01-2004, 03:13 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Well, actually, in the end Sam does go to Valinor. I think that Sam might be more easily equated with Parish, who remained in Niggle’s Parish after Niggle departed. Am I suggesting that Frodo might be more easily equated with Niggle, well, maybe. (Don’t hold me to that though.)

This struck me just after I posted last night - problem with it is that Sam is nothing like Parish to start with - he's a dreamer right from the beginning. Perhaps the Gaffer is closer to Parish - 'Elves & Dragons! Cabbages & potatoes are better for you & me.'

Of course, its dangerous to push these kinds of 'connections', as that implies that one story is simply an allegory of the other. Actually, I don't see Niggle as an allegory as such - more of an artistic manifesto, perhaps.
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Old 09-01-2004, 08:58 AM   #23
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Fordim

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I could not agree with you more, dm when you argue that “Leaf by Niggle” is about subcreation rather than salvation. The latter is too allegorical, and we all know how Tolkien felt about that, while the former is more applicable.


I am unconvinced that changing the subject matter to sub-creation makes the story any less allegorical. To my mind it is perhaps less high-flown, but no less allegorical. Could you elaborate?
Umm. . .I'm not sure. . .

I suppose what I meant was that I think the story is about subcreation (that is, artistic creation in general) rather than Christian notions of salvation (that is, a particular religion). So I am guilty, it seems, of a category shift as I praise how the story explores the idea of creativity (in general, not just Tolkien's specific forumlation of subcreation), and deny how it explores the idea of salvation (in particular as Catholic, not in general as a concept of grace).

*whew* That was a very difficult logical slip you caught me out on there Kuruharan.

That having been said, I don't think that it's entirely unjustified (what, me wrong?? ). Insofar as the story explores notions of salvation and grace I think that it would be hard not to see it doing so in terms that are clearly and specifically Christian (and thus, there's an allegorical trend here -- Workhouse=Purgatory, Niggle=Everyman, Tree=Grace, etc). If we look instead at the story as exploring the idea of art and creativity, I don't think there's this same emphasis on the particularity of any one belief system (and thus, there's a trend here more toward applicability as the reader is freer to connect things like the Workhouse and the Tree to ideas about art and imagination in the primary world).

I won't blame you at all if you don't find this a satisfactory response, for I'm not entirely sure that I do. But you asked for clarification and so I felt compelled to try and give some.
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Old 09-01-2004, 02:46 PM   #24
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I have found a direct reference to this topic in Tolkien's Letter 153! Here's what he says:
Quote:
I tried to show allegorically how that [subcreation] might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial' story Leaf by Niggle...
Three of the themes we've discussed on this thread show up in that quote - allegory (and he admits to it!! ); subcreation, which he names as a theme of the story; and purgatory, showing us that the Workhouse is indeed intended to represent that.


I've been paging through some of the secondary literature to find references as well. In Tolkien, Man and Myth, Joseph Pearce quotes Paul Kocher from Master of Middle Earth:
Quote:
In the workhouse on the other side (an updated version of Dante's Purgatorio) Niggle is assigned hard labours aimed at correcting his sins and weaknesses.
Pearce goes on to say that
Quote:
Priscilla Tolkien believed this story to be the 'most autobiographical' of all her father's work.
...Niggle's 'Tree' is clearly a euphemism for Tolkien's own sub-creation, principally The Lord of the Rings but also The Silmarillion on which he laboured all his life and which, like Niggle's Tree, would ultimately remain uncompleted at his death.
In his opinion, the story was written to put into practice what Tolkien preached in his essay 'On Fairy Stories'.


In J. R. R. Tolkien, Author of the Century, Tom Shippey also states that
Quote:
...the 'Workhouse' ... is clearly purgatory.
and goes on to address the aspect of sub-creative Paradise. He calls it a 'eucatastrophe' that
Quote:
Niggle's reward is to find his picture come true at the end of his journey, his 'sub-creation' accepted by the Creator...
There's more, but as it concerns the application to JRRT's real life, which we explored on the above-mentioned thread, I won't go into that any further here.
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Old 09-02-2004, 01:39 PM   #25
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I've been thinking about my personal reaction to this aspect of Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle. I agree with his ideas on a sub-creative Paradise, but since I'm not willing to accept the concept of purgatory, whether punitive or corrective, what sense does the story make to me? The allegory does not apply - but there's still applicability, of course!

I've decided that I can learn from applying the corrective element to my life before death. Becoming master of my time, finishing tasks, finding satisfaction in hard work/manual labor - all of these are things that would balance my life and correct lop-sided tendencies. Why wait until the afterlife to learn them?! Instead of rebelling against circumstances that force me to do unpleasant things, I could learn to accept them and see how they do me good. I could take time to think and listen for the voice of Grace in my life.

Tolkien's 'Workhouse' purgatory has a lot to teach me! Now, to stop just thinking about it and actually do it...
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Old 09-02-2004, 01:53 PM   #26
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Becoming master of my time, finishing tasks, finding satisfaction in hard work/manual labor - all of these are things that would balance my life and correct lop-sided tendencies.
Oh, Esty. You would get practical on me? Master of my time! Finishing tasks!!

Grendel, and Grendel's mother, you say? To me they seem like The Final Dragon. (ref: Sam portion of my sig.)

What's the quote? Resolve will grow stronger as hope grows dimmer.... or something like that.
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Old 09-03-2004, 03:25 AM   #27
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I think this is one instance where alegory is vital for the story to work for people with a belief system different to the author's. Because its about a 'journey' to (or through) a 'workhouse', rather than being about death & Purgatory, the essential meaning of the story, the idea the author wants to communicate (which is the one Esty has pointed up, I think), is not dismissed by (or at the least 'unavailable' to) the non Catholic reader. Also, I can't help feeling that if the allegory had been more blatant then the sub-creation aspect of the story would have been lost.
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Old 09-03-2004, 03:37 AM   #28
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I’m continuing to ponder the applicability of Tolkien’s afterlife allegory. It seems especially significant to me that the purgatorial corrective is preceded by death. Now, literal death can’t be applicable to life, since it ends life, so it must apply to something else. The Biblical terminology of “dying to sin” comes to mind, or the psychological idea of letting something go. Don’t worry, I won’t begin publicly reflecting on what I need to give up in order to make way for corrective balance in my life, but I had an enlightening thought –

Tolkien meant (perhaps only sub-consciously) this story to be applicable to his life! It was not primarily an allegory for a literal purgatory, though that fit in with his Catholic doctrine. But he wrote Leaf by Niggle relatively early in his life, too early to make it merely an analogy to afterlife. Otherwise he would have been wishing to die in order to gain what he thought he needed, and I don’t think that was the case. He was feeling his lack in important areas of his life and wished for a corrective influence. For those who have read Tolkien’s biography, it isn’t difficult to recognize the similarities of his and Niggle’s character traits and what was needed to balance them.

So, what might he have felt he needed to give up, let go, die to, in order to gain the characteristics he felt were lacking? Niggle had to leave his unfinished painting, which was only completed (then as a reality) in the afterlife. Tolkien wrote this story during a creative crisis, being unable to finish The Lord of the Rings, Carpenter suggests in his biography. Did he think he would have to leave it uncompleted? Or did he realize that his perfectionism, like Niggle’s, stood in the way of completion?

I know that he didn’t appreciate amateur psychologists who try to analyze authors in order to compare them to their works, and that is not my intention. However, I feel that we can learn from understanding what he was trying to tell himself – and his readers – here.


PS - I read davem's post after writing mine - I think our thoughts are going in the same direction there.
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Old 09-03-2004, 06:15 AM   #29
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Esty, Davem,

These are interesting ideas. I do have a question regarding this:

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Tolkien wrote this story during a creative crisis, being unable to finish The Lord of the Rings, Carpenter suggests in his biography. Did he think he would have to leave it uncompleted? Or did he realize that his perfectionism, like Niggle’s, stood in the way of completion?
When we consider the "real life" events that led Tolkien to write Niggle, another question comes to mind. I wonder if he was thinking solely about the Lord of the Rings in terms of perfectionism and not finishing his work, or of the Legendarium as a whole. I know that sometimes when I am in a funk, I begin thinking about the immediate problem at hand (e.g., not finishing the particular project I am working on ---in JRRT's case LotR) and, before long, that problem becomes larger and larger in my head, until I am thinking about a much grander set of similar problems and my basic character "limitation" that has put me in this mess.

Is it possible that the author was ruminating on the entire Lgendarium in its unfinished state -- what he still regarded as the "true masterpiece" of his life -- or were his thoughts confined to the immediate book at hand? I could be reading events backwards into this: specifically, the fact that Tolkien would never finish the Silm, something he onviously could not have known. If he was only thinking of LotR, wasn't that a new way of viewing that work? Did he now realize on some level that it would be LotR which would be the central masteripiece he would leave rather than the older tales of the Legendarium?

Sorry about these vagaries, but does anyone have thoughts on this....
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Old 04-24-2007, 03:21 PM   #30
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Humpety Bumpety, in case some of the newer members have anything to apply to the topic. I'm sure Esty would be grateful, even if the rest of you Dead wouldn't be.

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Old 04-24-2007, 04:10 PM   #31
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Hasn't the Pope just done away with Purgatory? Or is it just Limbo that's been consigned to, er, limbo?
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Old 04-25-2007, 02:41 AM   #32
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The Catholic Church has down-played purgatory since Vatican II and has now dropped it completely.

However, that would not have affected Tolkien's thinking. He grew up believing the erroneous idea of purgatory and would believe it still, no matter what the Pope said. He hated change. For example, he was never comfortable with the Mass in English instead of Latin.
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Old 04-26-2007, 07:30 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by mark12_30
Grace is getting what I don't deserve. I haven't earned any food; you feed me. I haven't shown you any loyalty; you welcome me into your family. Grace is displayed when gift is freely given without regard to merit: "Unmerited favor".
The application of Grace is broader than mere release from the Workhouse. That Niggle is allowed to spend time developing his character in areas of his weaknesses is, itself, Grace. To construe the two voices as Law and Grace is to misunderstand this. Rightly or wrongly, I have always seen the two voices as Father and Son - - - the Son was not even known of in the Old Testament, but there are multitudinous instances of Grace throughout the O.T. So the two Voices are discussing the application of continued Grace to Niggle, and what form it should take, whether more punishment, or reward.
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Old 04-27-2007, 04:54 PM   #34
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Actually, Selmo, the Catholic Church has NOT done away with Purgatory. You are conflating Limbo and Purgatory. Limbo was the theological concept of a place outside of Heaven for those who die without Baptism, yet who lived lives worthy enough of reward, and since Heaven requires Baptism for entry (or so holds Catholic dogma), then there needed, in fairness, to be somewhere for those such as innocent babies or righteous heathens to go after death, since they clearly had not merited Hell.

The current thought in the Church officially does away with that, and replaces it with the dogma of "baptism of desire", the idea that desiring baptism is itself merit enough to go to Heaven. Presumably, this desire is assessed in ways we can't exactly measure.

Purgatory, on the other hand, while certainly less emphasized since Vatican II as a result of an attempt to get away from the whole idea of "Catholic guilt" and get closer to being a people of joy, remains very much a part of Catholic theology.

It is, as has been noted already on this thread, a place for those who have not died in a state of perfect grace, but who are not overall bad enough for Hell. It is important to distinguish between Catholic and Protestant concepts of how Grace works here. Classical Protestantism believes in the doctrine of "sola gratia"-- through grace alone. This is, in fact, one of the great dividing lines theologically between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics hold that Faith AND Works are necessary to get into Heaven. It is not enough just to believe, if you truly believe, you must DO.

Now, it is true that Catholics believe, as Protestants do, that entry into Heaven is impossible without God's grace. However, it is necessary to do your part as well. It's not just a matter of saying "I accept Jesus as my lord and saviour", and POOF!, you're in the lineup for Heaven. In Catholic dogma, you are now eligible... but you still have to deal with those sins, since no one ever stops sinning. Confession (the Sacrament of Penance) and the Eucharist are both ways of erasing sin, but it is almost impossible to be going to confession so often that, when you die, you haven't a sin on your soul.

To draw this back to Tolkien somewhat... let's use the Elves as a comparison. It has already been said on this thread that Mandos seems an appropriate analogy for Purgatory, and I think it apt.

Now, when an Elf dies in good graces with the Valar and with the world in general, it is inevitable that he or she will be reborn, correct? Since it is the inherent nature of the Elves to be reborn, rebirth for an Elf could be equated to Heaven for Catholics. However, Elves are not necessarily reborn immediately after death. While a certain waiting period seems to be in order, the period also seems to vary. Some, such as Glorfindel or Finrod, who would be the Elven equivalents of the Saints, pass through remarkably quickly, whereas the average time in Mandos seems to be somewhat longer, just as most of humanity spends a bit more time in Purgatory than Mother Theresa or John Paul II. Then there are those who take FOREVER... the Sons of Fëanor for example seem to be consigned to particularly long sentences.

I would say, though, that Mandos also functions as "Hell" for the Elves. Hell, by a more modern definition, is a separation from God's presence and love, the natural intended state of humanity. Well, the nature state of the Elves is corporal life in Arda while it lasts, so the state of being permanently separated from it would, by definition, be Hell.

Getting back to Purgatory, it is certainly understood as a place of perfection. Niggle is obviously a good enough man that deserves Heaven (and for Niggle, Heaven is getting to finish his tree, which makes one feel that the phrase "Heaven on Earth" is applicable, and also makes one wonder what tastes of "Heaven" in our lives we will encounter in their fullness on the other side...), but he is not a perfect man...

Now, because the Catholic concept of justification, being made right before God, does not just involve accepting God's grace, but involves work. It is not an instantaneous process, but a more labourious one, and it requires the work of the person it concerns. Because of free will, we can't just be flicked from bad to good. It has to be our effort, though it is only the grace and mercy of God that we have the strength or the guidance to succeed. For Niggle, before he was ready for Heaven, he had various problems with his personality, his management of time and his efficiency being the "allegories" of sinful defects. When his time in his cottage, painting away, which can be taken as his mortal life, is over and he is not yet perfected, he is taken to the workshop to finish the job.

I'm fairly sure I've rambled more than need be... and I'm quite sure there's some repetition with what's already in this thread, and I'm positive more can be said, but I'm at what feels like a good place to stop. Convalescents have the right to be selfish, don't they?

Obviously, as resident Catholic, I can't avoid a thread touching directly on such things... but I am exhausted, and I can only hope the above makes sense. My leg throbs and my butt is numb is my excuse if it doesn't...
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Old 04-27-2007, 08:13 PM   #35
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Just one thing, Formendacil, it appears to me that you have confounded Grace and Faith, as opposed to Works. Could you elucidate, when your leg throbs less?
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Old 04-27-2007, 09:09 PM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by littlemanpoet
Just one thing, Formendacil, it appears to me that you have confounded Grace and Faith, as opposed to Works. Could you elucidate, when your leg throbs less?
Hmm... that seems to be a fair criticism. I do seem to have conflated the two ideas, though I'm not entirely sure that that changes the position or strength of my argument entirely.

Classical Protestantism, as I have been taught, believes in both sola gratia, by grace alone, and sola fidei by Faith alone. Together with sola scriptura, these are the Protestant answers to the three major issues of the Reformation: How are we saved? (Protestants answer Grace alone), How are we made right before God, that is: how are we justified before God? (Protestants answer Faith alone), and Where does authority reside? (Protestants answer Scripture alone).

Now, the third question doesn't concern this matter--not directly anyway. Certain the debate of Scripture alone vs. Scripture AND Tradition could make for an interesting Tolkien debate-- LotR alone, or do we count the HoME? However, we are dealing here with "How are We Saved?" and "How are We Justified?"

The first question bears on the Purgatory issue very clearly. Basically, it is asking "How can we enter Heaven?" The Protestant opinion, Grace Alone, clearly has no use for Purgatory, hence why it isn't found in their theology. If the only reason we're going to Heaven is because God has said so, then what point is there to a place of purification or penance? None--the dead sinner is going to Heaven through nothing he has done, but through complete gift. All he has to do is say "yes".

The Catholic view, obviously, has to be different. If it were the same, we'd've had no Reformation. The Catholic opinion is that while Grace is NECESSARY for Heaven, it's not the whole story. We have the belief that it is necessary for us to do our part too. Without Grace, Heaven is unattainable and impossible, but Grace is there to help us attain it, not to hand it to us on a silver platter.

This Catholic thought can, I think, be seen in parallel, in Tolkien's work. Frodo is given the Grace necessary to reach Mt. Doom and save Middle-Earth. He cannot do it on his own, but needs Gollum's intervention in the end (comparable to Grace), and he receives help along the way: Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, Faramir, Sam; who could all be seen as instruments of grace. If we applied the Protestant doctrine of Grace Alone to the same analogy, we'd have Frodo fly to Mt. Doom on the Eagles, one of which would bump him so that he dropped the Ring over the Fires.

The second question, How are We Justified, is closely entwined with the first. How are we made right before God? How are we made worthy of His Grace?

Well, the Protestant answer is Faith alone--all you have to do is confess and believe that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, and you're in. Get yourself baptised, and it's all done. Well, Catholics hold that there's a bit more to it than this... Yes, you have to BELIEVE that Jesus is Lord, but you also have to do some work. Hence the Catholic/Protestant debate of Faith vs. Works. Properly, Catholics believe that both are necessary, but due to Protestants holding the position of Faith Alone, Catholics tend to overemphasize Works. And in contrast to Protestant practices, all of our strange rituals like rosaries and novenas, as well as numerous sacraments and detailed liturgies, it can certainly seem that we overdo the outward show and neglect the inward truth, and this is certainly a danger. Properly, however, all this outward show is simply the outward harmony of mind and body. If the mind is focused on Heaven, so should the body be as well. And this applies to acts of charity as well as to physical manifestations of inward faith.

Anyway, how does this Faith vs. Faith & Works debate translate in Tolkien? Well, to use the same Frodo analogy as in the Grace question, I would take a look at how Frodo is justified in the book. Is Frodo given the quest to Mt. Doom simply because he says that he will do it, as Faith alone would say is all that you need to receive Grace? No. Frodo receives the burden of the quest not just because he SAYS he'll do it, but because of what he has already himself DONE in getting the Ring to Rivendell. And when he receives "Grace" on the road, such as from Galadriel, it is not just because he said he'd take the Ring to Mt. Doom, but because he continued to demonstrate his steadfastness and effort.

I hope that more or less explains the difference. As I said, I don't think that the conflation makes much difference to what I was saying, but there definitely is a difference, and I certainly shouldn't have mixed them together.
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Old 04-28-2007, 06:20 AM   #37
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Thanks for the elucidation. Classical Protestantism simply has too many holes in its logic, especially considering how the mindset is forced to make light of, or "answer away" the rather forceful statements in, for example, the books of James and Hebrews. So I can hardly call myself Protestant anymore. And of course it must be remembered that Luther was reacting, right or wrong, to what he saw as abuses. But that's another issue.

Also (I think this has already been said), Tolkien's version of purgatory is quite mild compared to such passages as can be found in Malachi, the gospels, and Revelation, where it is compared to purifying gold by means of heating, to threshing wheat, and to passing through fire.
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Old 04-28-2007, 09:01 AM   #38
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Thank you for your thoughtful, knowledgable posts, Formy! That's exactly what I was looking for when I first started this thread nearly three years ago. Though your information is not likely to convert me from "by grace alone" , I find it very helpful for understanding Tolkien's frame of mind and giving necessary background to this story.

I've been going through this tale and "Smith" intensively, preparing a paper for the German Tolkien Seminar, and for the first time, I had this thought:

What do you think was Parish's purgatorial experience? He doesn't seem to have needed the Workhouse as a labour-learning process, since he was already proficient at practical work. When the two men meet in what is to become Niggle's Parish, he is the one now absorbed in simply looking at things, so obviously he has by then learned to see and recognize beauty - something that he couldn't in life before death. So was he perhaps sent to an art school division to catch up on his deficiencies? Or was his training learning to sit still, not being active himself?

The two men remind me of the Biblical sisters Martha and Mary - one always practical and busy, the other one listening attentively.

The only actual information we have about the interim is that Parish also heard the Voices, since he mentions the Second Voice. So of necessity any conclusions we draw are speculative - which has never stopped us from having great discussions!
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Old 04-30-2007, 02:08 AM   #39
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How interesting - after I asked myself the above question, I came across a very brief comment by Shippey in Author of the Century:
Quote:
...Parish, whose time in the Workhouse has clearly been spent in making him less practical, not more so.
Other than that, I don't think I've read any other thoughts on this - and I have researched fairly extensively.
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Old 04-30-2007, 02:33 AM   #40
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And one assumes it would have been just as difficult for Parish to lose his 'practical', no-nonsense ways as it was for Niggle to learn some. Niggle had to learn to do the practical stuff, on which civilisation depends. Parish had to learn to appreciate the art & beauty for which civilisation exists.

Which brings us to Tolkien's attitude to the 'conflict' which he personifies in Niggle & Parish. He focusses on Niggle's struggles to become a 'practical' man, yet he also feels that the practical people like Parish are lacking something & that they also have a lesson to learn. 'Niggle's Parish' is both a place & the necessary next step for humanity. Its 'the best introduction to the Mountains', & the step humanity must take before they can 'move on' & transcend their 'fallen' state. The conflict between Thesis & Antithesis produce Synthesis - as in Jung's concept of the Transcendent Function....
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