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Old 06-05-2016, 04:26 AM   #1
Bêthberry
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Pipe Authorial Control and World Building

This thread's title comes from a blog by Dr. Dimitra Fimi, a well-regarded scholar of Tolkien and fantasy. Her thoughts in the blog struck me as interesting for our discussions here, where we often quote Tolkien's letters as the definitive take on a topic or idea. Yet as Dr. Fimi suggests, there are different ways of reading, different pleasures. And, those pleasures may depend on the type or mode of fantasy an author uses.

Is this a helpful distinction, between readers who read for immersion in alternate worlds and readers who enjoy simply the possibility of alternate worlds without the saturation? I've always been bemused by Tolkien's defense of "applicability" and the freedom of the reader with his attempts in his letters to explain how his Legendarium ought to be read.

Her blog entry is easy to read: Authorial Control and World Building
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Old 06-05-2016, 07:33 AM   #2
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I don't know that there need be a hard distinction between "saturation" and "possible" readers.

It seems that in my own experience, my (fiction) reading is highly dependent on my mood at the time; whatever I might be going through personally influences what I want to read, and, subsequently, what I want to do with the story.

There are times when I desire to "escape" from RL as entirely as possible for a brief while, to recharge spiritual and emotional batteries. At those times I seem to also look for encouraging ideas from the book. At those times I go for "immersion", with Tolkien being a common choice. Rowling is another example of this. For this to be effective, the story-world must be substantially different from RL.

The other side of the coin is the "possible", in which I might want something closer to reality, maybe to more imagine myself in the situations on the story.
For this I have the original Ian Fleming James Bond novels, and the complete Sherlock Holmes collection. I guess what I want there is a measure of escape, tinged with the faint hope that some qualities I admire in the book's characters might grow in me.

Or maybe all this is just the coffee talking.
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Old 06-05-2016, 08:01 AM   #3
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In Reading The Lord of the Rings Michael Drout makes comparable statements, suggesting caution when it comes to methods of reading which can "turn Tolkien into his own leading critic".

I like to think of the letters, essays and so on as part of a "corpus" with the main narratives, at least when they're adding to and/or offering commentary on those narratives. Thus I aim to read the letters and so on as part of a broader textual complex. Oddly enough, when I googled the phrase "textual complex" just then to see if it was a term I could meaningfully use, the sixth entry to come up was Drout's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment.

On the other hand I think there is also plenty of merit to reading the texts individually and in a certain degree of isolation. Both approaches can be enlightening.
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Old 06-05-2016, 11:08 AM   #4
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I consider the contextual and intertextual discourse provided by Tolkien to be profoundly important when considering reading the actual story. The layers of addenda Tolkien provided both increases the understanding of the text, expands the mythos, and certainly aligns one in the direction the author wished for one to read his work. This, in my estimation, is not a bad thing.

One only has to go back to the 2nd-edition forward of LoTR, where Tolkien (in his usual curmudgeonly manner) dismisses the attempts by some critics and readers to apply the modern modus operandi of nuclear war to the tale and comparing characters in the book to infamous figures of WWII. Readers will find a host of implications not pertinent to the text - it is the foundational tenet of fan-fiction writing.

Of course, as Zigûr referenced, one must be cautious when delving, because one might unearth a sleeping Balrog (with wings). Tolkien can be deceptively vague, meandering, hypocritical, annoyingly duplicitous and even forgetful, but given the hours upon hours of stimulating reading provided by the external commentary, and particularly C. Tolkien's posthumous distillation of his father's papers and unpublished works in The Silmarillion and the HoMe series, I think, for myself, it only adds to the immersive process.
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Old 06-05-2016, 05:44 PM   #5
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Tolkien can, at times, cause some problems reinterpreting himself. I mean, does anybody really see the topic of 'the Machine' in connection to the LotR the same way as he does?

I've actually difficulty understanding what 'the Machine' means there, nor do I consider the Ring a really good metaphor or symbol for technology. It is way to mystical/magical for that. In my opinion, Tolkien's depiction of magic completely failed to convey the meanings he attributes to magic in some of his letters or in other writings. The magia-goeteia difference doesn't even show up in any of his writings and only causes more confusion.

The tidbit of self-interpretation of Gandalf truly living Eä and being called to Ilúvater after his death is something that isn't really in the text because, you know, Tolkien didn't really include Eru Ilúvater as a character into the book. If Tolkien wanted his readers to figure this out by themselves then he should have actually written about that in his book.

Another thing would be the symbolic meaning/importance of the two unions between Elves and Men - Lúthien getting mortal in the process, and Tuor getting immortal. That is expressed very clearly in the Waldman letter but was not exactly executed all that well in the written work. Perhaps in part because he never got around to rewrite the Tuor story later in his life.

Insofar as we are concerned with the secondary world his comments in the letters are very much appreciated and on that level they are, in a sense, the voice of god. But you don't have to take him too seriously when you see him interpreting his own work or commenting on the meaning he intended to convey.

And of course one should always keep in mind that a letter is part of a private conversation usually not destined to be collected and published in a book; anybody writing letters or emails him-/herself knows that the intention thereby is to actually have a conversation of sorts. And you usually want to present yourself in a good light.
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Old 06-05-2016, 08:24 PM   #6
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Inzil, I've been off coffee for something like eight years so I don't have your excuse.

The original Bond books are an interesting suggestion. They, like conspiracy and detective fiction, play out supposedly in the primary world. Yet some of the best conspiracy fiction, to my mind the George Smiley books by John Le Carre (not his later fiction) are full of tantalizing detail, but also surprisingly silent on some important ones. I wonder if someone with deep personal experience of the Cold War machinations might have a very different response to Le Carre's work.

One issue about clamouring for details of course depends on when one reads the extraneous information. For instance, I don't think people usually read an author's biography or letters before first starting on his or her fiction. So if we go in "blind" on that first read, all we have is the ur-text to guide us. So, what kind of book makes us want to read the secondary sources?

I take things Tolkien says with a grain--or several--of salt, not that I dismiss him. As Fimi points out, he is incorrect about the presence of very Victorian fey creatures in his early work, which he clearly worked to eliminate from later works. And I would suggest that the farther a letter is away from the original writing (or completion of writing), the greater possibility of memory lapses. Authors are tricksome, sometimes with themselves as well as with their readers. After all, Tolkien at one point said that the attraction was seeing something in the distance, but that the closer one got, the less strong the attraction becomes. So he tantalizingly put bit and pieces of his Legendarium into TH and LotR, with the intent of suggesting more and distant events, he didn't want a full explanation. I suppose I should toddle off and find that source.
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Old 06-05-2016, 09:59 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Gothmog, LoB View Post
I mean, does anybody really see the topic of 'the Machine' in connection to the LotR the same way as he does?

I've actually difficulty understanding what 'the Machine' means there, nor do I consider the Ring a really good metaphor or symbol for technology. It is way to mystical/magical for that.
Professor Tolkien says in Letter 131 that "magic" and "machines" are essentially the same thing:
Quote:
[the 'fallen' sub-creator] will rebel against the laws of the Creator – especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective, – and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised.
Of course in this case he is referring to this being a theme in "all this stuff", ie not just The Lord of the Rings but the entire legendarium.

I think the fact that this is unclear in The Lord of the Rings is because a substantial account of Sauron's activities in Eregion and his collaboration with the Gwaith-i-Mírdain never really occurs in that text. According to The Treason of Isengard it was drafted for the Council of Elrond, but that section was already far too long so it ended up constituting part of "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" - a text for which I dearly wish the unedited draft had been published in some form, as I personally can find no hard information about what was Professor Tolkien's own composition and what was editorial invention.

That being said, I would argue that the theme of "the Machine" is prominent in The Lord of the Rings through the character of Saruman. Nonetheless I am not sure it is as prominent as the other themes Professor Tolkien attributes to his own work, Fall and Mortality. Furthermore, I would argue that there are other themes in the text that Professor Tolkien himself does not identify: "the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going". I find this statement a touch disingenuous, for instance, but that should simply provide us with fruit for discussion rather than an authoritative instruction of what we should or should not focus on as readers.
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Old 06-06-2016, 06:01 PM   #8
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@Zigûr:

I know that letter, the problem I've is actually understanding the concept Tolkien tries to illustrate there. How exactly does 'rebelling against mortality' lead to a desire for power in general, and how the hell does this lead to 'magic' and 'the Machine'?

I really don't get the antagonism between 'external plans or devices' and '(the development of) the inherent inner powers or talents'. Does this mean technology in itself is bad, and how is it that this can be a general rule - both in Tolkien's fictional world as well as in his (apparent) interpretation of our real world?

I'd agree with you that Saruman and his machines and gunpowder sort of can be seen as his attempt to depict the problem of 'the Machine'. But to the degree in which this plot is utilized in Tolkien's finalized works it is actually somewhat of an alien element in the body of his work. He toned down this kind of thing even in the later versions of the Fall of Númenor (which originally included all those references to modern ships and weapons and the like). In that sense it comes off as a rather irritating 'science fiction' element in the story that is very much at odds with the more antiquarian sections of the story.

However, the One Ring and the Rings of Power in general as symbols for this kind of theoretical concept seem to be chosen very poorly because the story never actually connects the One Ring to 'the Machine' or something mechanistic. It seems to be more like a perverted living thing seeing through people and dominating its bearer (all the stuff about the Eye suggests as much) - the actual twisted power it can supposedly grant to a powerful bearer is never actually explored or shown to the reader (outside the letter in which Tolkien actually speculates who might have done what with the Ring, of course). Frodo gives us a glimpse of that, in the end, but we really don't know or learn how the Ring as an instrument of domination on a broader scale could (or did once) work.

Magical rings couldn't be farther away from artifacts one would connect to or interpret as 'machines'. They are very much mystical/magical (even divine) objects if you know your Nordic legends and sagas, not to mention more recent adaptations of those. The whole part of the Ring being evil and a part of Sauron is easy enough to grasp and understand but the point about it being an effective tool of world domination much less so. Yes, if you read all your stuff you'll finally understand that the point of Sauron's plan was to ensnare and enslave specifically the Noldor of Eregion with the Rings of Power he helped them to make (and that this plan failed from the start and everything he did thereafter was just plan B). But what exactly those rings themselves can do, how they grant power or enhance it is completely unclear. That they can preserve stuff and that Nenya and Vilya preserved Lórien and Imladris can be deduced from the text, but what exactly the (evil) power aspect of all this was in detail and day-to-day life is very difficult to even guess. As is the sort of positive 'power-enhancing effect' the One Ring had on Sauron himself. He created the Ring and his very bodily form was (or at that time could be) power and terror. How could the Ring possibly even enhance or help him in this regard?

Not to mention that, as you pointed out, the actual story of the Rings of Power and their creation wasn't covered in any detail in LotR - a version of 'Of the Rings of Power' should have been the most detailed section of the appendices because that was actually the most important part of the entire back story of the novel. One can expect to learn something about those Rings the Lord of the Rings is lord about...

Mortality is a topic that wasn't exactly well handled in LotR. At least no in relation to Gandalf. I remember completely misunderstanding the whole setting during my first read, thinking Gandalf had been sent back essentially as a ghost because of his talk that he was sent back only for a short time - I interpreted that as being sent back from death only until such time as his job was done (Sauron being defeated). In that context it is very easy to actually interpret the final journey into the West as literal death for all those characters because Gandalf would now have to die, too.
And mythology-wise this is clearly not intentional on Tolkien's part.

The nonchalant way in which this happens established the whole topic of death and mortality not exactly as a problem in that novel. After all, some people could just return from death without it being such great a deal.

But I'm not sure if I get this thread off topic with all that rambling.
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Old 06-06-2016, 10:16 PM   #9
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Arthur C. Clarke wrote the script of 2001: A Space Odyssey with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick; he also invented the geostationary satellite, such as weather (and spy) satellites.

Clarke’s third law,
Quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
sounds a lot like the confusion of Elves and Men over what Tolkien called magia versus goeteia in Letter 155 to Naomi Mitchison.
Wikipedia notes that Clark’s third law sounds a lot like American author Leigh Brackett in a short story, “The Sorcerer of Rhiannon", published in Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1942, p. 39 (I cannot find the context, nor have I read the story):
Quote:
Witchcraft to the ignorant, … simple science to the learned.
Wikipedia also notes that during the Second World War, Clarke, who was British, had copies of Astounding smuggled to him by a friend because the British Government had banned their importation at the beginning of the war to make more room for food and munitions aboard ship.

Clarke served in the RAF in England during World War II. I do not know if he had any association with Tolkien; but perhaps there were friends in common. (Christopher Tolkien also served in the RAF, but in South Africa.) Whether or not this is so, I don’t think the observation that technology appeared to be “magic” was particularly novel: Edison and Tesla were both referred to as “magicians”.

Think about the technology we use every day. The internet, for one: that would look like magic to our not-so-distant forbears. Radio and television were referred to as magic: I still recall 1960s TV announcers proclaiming “the magic of television”, and I remember my mother (in the United States) weeping during the 1965 funeral of Winston Churchill, which was broadcast from London by satellite: magic. Things we consider “simple” – electric lights, air conditioners, medicines, chemistry, metallurgy, much less automobiles and airplanes and submarines and spacecraft – all things our ancestors of just a century or two ago could easily be convinced were “magic”.

Some of you may be too young to remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, where Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael are teleported back to early seventeenth-century Japan along with April O’Neill. April has a Sony Walkman with her: she’s captive in the castle of the evil Lord Norinaga when her walkman starts playing. Lord Norinaga and his guards jump back in fear, and April tells the English pirate in Norinaga’s court, Captain Walker, that she’s a witch, shrank five musicians, and imprisoned them in the little box; whereupon Norinaga has the guards chop the thing into pieces.

Tolkien said several times that the over-arching theme in Lord of the Rings is death. The theme is interwoven throughout the long tale from the Silmarillion onwards: the Elves have the life of Arda: to Men, they seem immortal. In fact, as Finrod reveals to Andreth (“Debate of Finrod and Andreth”, Morgoth’s Ring), at the end of Arda, Elves, too, die. He says Elves have heard of no hope of life beyond Arda, not even from the Valar whom they knew personally; while Men have the “Old Hope”, and as Aragorn told a grieving Arwen, “We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

In Letters 212, Tolkien wrote,
Quote:
To attempt by device or “magic” to recover longevity is thus a supreme folly and wickedness of “mortals”. Longevity or counterfeit “immortality” (true immortality is beyond Ea) is the chief bait of Sauron – it leads the small to a Gollum, and the great to a Ringwraith.
And in the long Letter 131 (to Milton Waldman), he said,
Quote:
[The Elves] wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of “The West”, and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with “fading”, the mode in which the changes of time … was perceived by them. They became sad, ... and their efforts all really a kind of embalming…

…At Eregion great work began – and the Elves came their nearest to falling to “magic” and machinery. With the aid of Sauron’s lore they made Rings of Power…

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. “change” viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus approaching “magic”, a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination.
Elves don’t want change: hence the Rings of Power. Men don’t want change, either: they fall to fear of death, envy the Elves, and the Númenóreans launch an quixotic assault upon Valinor, ending with not only the destruction of the invading armada, but the destruction of their island and a collapse of their civilization. Though they revived in the northwest of Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor), they never overcame their fear of death, and continued to engage in futile attempts to prolong their lives.

Finrod told Andreth that for Elves,
Quote:
Our hunter is slow-footed, but he never loses the trail. Beyond the day when he shall blow the mort, we have no certainty, no knowledge. And no one speaks to us of hope. … And yet at least ours is slow-footed, you would say? … True. But it is not clear that a foreseen doom long delayed is in all ways a lighter burden than one that comes soon.
I think the intent behind Tolkien’s work is the languages he created: every language needs a speaker, and the speaker needs a story. For Tolkien the philologist, how the speakers of his language perceive life and death is important to knowing how the language will change. That both longevial Elves and short-lived Men speak the same tongue, living together and witnessing the outcomes of one another’s lives and modes of living, also affects the language. Death in the near-term, opposed to hope in the long-run, is what divides the two groups; otherwise, they would be mostly indistinguishable.
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Old 06-07-2016, 03:37 AM   #10
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I understand the machine to be those magical artifacts that allow one to do things quicker than normal, that is the enhancement of one's abilities, and also results in less of the exercise and growth of one's own inherent abilities. So here I am weilding Vilya. It enhances my own powers without any natural development on my own part.
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Old 06-07-2016, 06:59 AM   #11
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@Alcuin:

I certainly agree with you that and Clarke that uninitiated people might see and interpret technology as 'magic' if they live in a society in which 'magic' is a thing.
I mean, one can argue that a decent portion of humanity in our day and age wouldn't cry 'Magic!' or 'Demons/gods!' if some sort of seemingly divine (extraterrestrial) entity would show up. We know there is no magic and that technology could be interpreted as magic by a culture/mindset in which magic is still thought to be *real*. But the majority of humanity is actually (or should be) beyond that point.

But I'd assume Clarke and Tolkien wouldn't be on the same page there. Clarke is writing science fiction from a modern/rational point of view. His ontology (if there is any in his stories) most likely doesn't include Cartesian dualism or anything of that sort.

Tolkien writes stories were magical creatures like elves and dwarves actually show up. Equating magic with technology in those stories would we very confusing indeed. For the reader elves, dwarves, angelic beings, etc. would be innately magical and not so because they use incredibly advanced technology.

Both magic as magic and technology as technology are essentially a thing in Tolkien's world. And thus equating or intricately connecting these two (or rather: only the negative aspects of these two as Tolkien sees them) leads to all sorts of strange effects.

For instance, the question how 'magic' as magic is working in Tolkien's world when it can be (at least partially and in its negative aspects/design) be replaced by primitive industrialization-like machines. Wouldn't Dark Lords like Sauron (and would-be Dark Lords like Saruman) use technology and magic for rather different things. Technology/machines for producing or destroying stuff on a grand scale (weapons, armor, etc.) whereas magic would still be used for all those other magical things like the Rings of Power, the palantíri, special magical blades, and so on. Not to mention that the innate 'magical power' of an Ainu would always be present in them, and enable them to create effects they would never be able to duplicate with technology and 'the Machine'.

I hope I can get across what I'm trying to say. I think the whole mortality angle is a different matter. Effects that can be accomplished by the Rings of Power aren't really possible with technology as we know it (and we can safely say that even very advanced technology wouldn't be able to affect 'the soul' because we know it doesn't exist - although, of course, advanced technology might be able to store and preserve memories, generating some sort of weird 'immortality').

If you want to write about the bad aspects of technology/machines it is a very problematic and not easily decipherable way if you do it by using magical artifacts which have powers we would usually understand as 'magical' rather than 'technological'.

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I understand the machine to be those magical artifacts that allow one to do things quicker than normal, that is the enhancement of one's abilities, and also results in less of the exercise and growth of one's own inherent abilities. So here I am weilding Vilya. It enhances my own powers without any natural development on my own part.
I get that in principle, of course. But how this is to be imagined in actuality, is my eye sight getting better, do I become quicker of mind and body, more intelligent, do I get more creative, etc. if I wear a Ring of Power? Is it really that? If so, this has little to do with technology because that only affects the outside world not what's within you - especially if we are talking about 'the Machine'.
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Old 06-07-2016, 07:22 AM   #12
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_C._Clarke ...

Clarke served in the RAF in England during World War II. I do not know if he had any association with Tolkien; but perhaps there were friends in common.
Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis corresponded between 1943 and 1954 (some of the letters have been published: http://www.amazon.com/Narnia-Space-O.../dp/0743475186).

Clarke met C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien was also present at one meeting. They spent an afternoon at an Oxford pub, the Eastgate, discussing various matters. Tolkien certainly read some science-fiction, and no doubt at least read Clarke's Childhood's End (1953) because it was highly praised by Lewis.

This contains many of Lewis' comments regarding that particular novel:

https://schriftman.wordpress.com/200...solute-corker/

As I recall, Clarke thought highly of The Lord of The Rings - although I can't find a specific quote, other than a quote from him comparing Frank Herbert's Dune to The Lord Of The Rings that was on the back cover of the first paperback edition of Dune around 1970:

"DUNE seems to me unique among modern sf novels in the depth of characterization and the extraordinary detail of the world it creates. I know nothing comparable to it except THE LORD OF THE RINGS."
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Old 06-07-2016, 07:25 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
This thread's title comes from a blog by Dr. Dimitra Fimi, a well-regarded scholar of Tolkien and fantasy. Her thoughts in the blog struck me as interesting for our discussions here, where we often quote Tolkien's letters as the definitive take on a topic or idea. Yet as Dr. Fimi suggests, there are different ways of reading, different pleasures. And, those pleasures may depend on the type or mode of fantasy an author uses.

Is this a helpful distinction, between readers who read for immersion in alternate worlds and readers who enjoy simply the possibility of alternate worlds without the saturation? I've always been bemused by Tolkien's defense of "applicability" and the freedom of the reader with his attempts in his letters to explain how his Legendarium ought to be read.

Her blog entry is easy to read: Authorial Control and World Building
Thanks for linking this- and yes, I think it is a helpful distinction, and no doubt explains why readers of certain works of fantasy are much more likely to engage in passionate debates over "canonicity", or obsess over background characters, or worry about minor inconsistancies... you know, what we do here, basically.

Fimi's thoughts on "intentional fallacy" vs "fallacy of anonymity" as "equally perilous paths" are also interesting, given that we quite often treat this as a very black-and-white issue, a simple matter of choosing one or the other approach.
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Old 06-07-2016, 08:34 AM   #14
Faramir Jones
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Pipe A meeting of Arthur C. Clarke and Val Cleaver with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien

Sir Arthur C. Clarke (as he later became) said that he and friend Val Cleaver had a meeting in Oxford with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He mentioned this in an essay, 'Memoirs of an Amateur Astronaut (Retired)', published in the 1960s, in which he spoke about his involvement in the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.

Some background was given to understand why the meeting took place. In the 1930s, before the Second World War, the BIS and its activities were not taken seriously. Clarke said that the organisation’s Journal attracted ‘a surprising amount of attention and a not surprising amount of amusement’.

That doyen of scientific publications, the good, grey Nature condescended to notice our existence, but concluded its review with the unkind cut: ‘While the ratio of theorizing to practical experimentation is so high, little attention will be paid to the activities of the British Interplanetary Society.’

Clarke conceded this, but pointed out that the Society had the equivalent of $2.50 in the till. (Arthur C. Clarke, Voices from the Sky, (London: Mayflower Paperbacks, 1969, p. 144.))

After the Second World War, he said that the BIS was taken more seriously, due to the German V2 rocket. In speaking of those who supported and opposed the Society’s aims, he referred to a couple of familiar names, and detailed a meeting with them both:

Less sympathetic to our aims was Dr. C. S. Lewis, author of two of the very few works of space fiction that can be classed as literature, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Both of these fine books contained attacks on scientists in general, and astronauts in particular, which aroused my ire. I was especially incensed by a passage in Perelandra referring to ‘little rocket societies’ that hoped to spread the crimes of mankind to other planets. And at the words: ‘The destruction or enslavement of other species in the universe, if such there are, is to these minds a welcome corollary,’ I really saw red. An extensive correspondence with Dr. Lewis led to a meeting in a famous Oxford pub, the Eastgate. Seconding me was my friend, Val Cleaver, a space buff from way back (and now chief engineer of the Rolls-Royce Rocket Division). Supporting Lewis was Professor J. R. E. Tolkien [sic], whose trilogy The Lord of the Ring [sic] created a considerable stir a few years ago. Needless to say, neither side converted the other, and we refused to abandon our diabolical schemes of interplanetary conquest. But a fine time was had by all, and when, some hours later, we emerged a little unsteadily from the Eastgate, Dr. Lewis’ parting words were ‘I’m sure you’re very wicked people – but how dull it would be if everyone was good.’ (Voices from the Sky, p. 148.)

In another account, quoted in a biography of him, Clarke gave more details of this meeting:

Val and I stayed at the Mitre, which is a wonderful non-Euclidean building with no right angles to it, no two rooms the same. We met Lewis at the Eastgate, and this little man, whose name I didn’t catch, was in the background. Then I found out that his name was Tolkien. (Neil McAleer, Odyssey: The authorised biography of Arthur C. Clarke, (London: Victor Gonzalez Ltd., 1992, p. 69.))
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Old 06-07-2016, 09:55 AM   #15
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As I recall, Clarke thought highly of The Lord of The Rings - although I can't find a specific quote, other than a quote from him comparing Frank Herbert's Dune to The Lord Of The Rings that was on the back cover of the first paperback edition of Dune around 1970:
Also, in Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two, Heywood Floyd references The Lord of the Rings when describing the surface of the moon Io, quoting part of the description of Orodruin:
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Do you remember how I introduced you to The Lord of the Rings, when we were kids back at that Oxford conference? Well Io is Mordor: look up Part Three. There's a passage about "rivers of molten rock that wound their way . . . until they cooled and lay like twisted dragon-shapes vomited from the tormented earth." That's a perfect description: how did Tolkien know, a quarter century before anyone ever saw a picture of Io? Talk about Nature imitating Art.
I always thought that quote was a little odd from an intertextual point of view, because I feel as if Orodruin is meant to look obscene and horrifyingly grotesque, whereas Clarke seems to be trying to convey a more neutral impression of awe at natural phenomena.

To contribute something more on-topic, Professor Tolkien's personal interpretation of the themes of his work is interesting when it appears that he to an extent sees ideas of humility and moral necessity in The Lord of the Rings not as themes in themselves but rather components of his ideas about Fall, Mortality and the Machine. This may be something not unusual with creative people, however; it is always possible that there are ideas or even stories which seem very clear to them but have not necessarily been conveyed on paper in a way which every reader will notice. I think Professor Tolkien is a minor case; I've noticed more egregious examples in interviews where defensive writers (especially for television) seem to have swathes of additional characterisation and plotting in their heads that they have never conveyed to the audience, and become frustrated when the confused audience is revealed to not be composed of mind-readers!
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Old 06-08-2016, 10:06 AM   #16
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To contribute something more on-topic, Professor Tolkien's personal interpretation of the themes of his work is interesting when it appears that he to an extent sees ideas of humility and moral necessity in The Lord of the Rings not as themes in themselves but rather components of his ideas about Fall, Mortality and the Machine. This may be something not unusual with creative people, however; it is always possible that there are ideas or even stories which seem very clear to them but have not necessarily been conveyed on paper in a way which every reader will notice.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think in the Letters, Tolkien was describing the underlying impulses that informed his story but where manifested imperfectly, or perhaps obscurely metaphorically, in the actual story itself.
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Old 06-12-2016, 09:45 AM   #17
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GLoB:

I think you're looking at the Machine/Magic issue a bit orthogonally, using "magic creatures" for Elves and Dwarves whereas "machines" means things that operate mechanically with cogs and gears, a primary-world frame of reference.

Think of Machines instead as "devices that harness the laws of physics for material ends"- given that in Tolkien's universe "magic" is one of the laws of physics. Elves and dragons are as natural as horses and men. In a universe so constituted, with what we call "magic" as one of the inherent forces of nature, one can build a tool or machine that uses heat, pressure, leverage, runes, spells, and/or enchantments: ultimately the issue is making a labor-saving device which alters physical reality according to one's desire, whether Grond or a Great Ring.

Magia/goetia is a bit different, since here Tolkien is talking about illusion or vision not actual physical effect. He's trying to distinguish the "deceits of the enemy"- illusions calculated to deceive, such as Sauron's trap for Gorlim - with "faerian drama" which is intended as Art even if thickheaded mortals confuse the effects as "real", and with things like the Mirror of Galadriel or the palantiri which present Truth even if in a confusing manner.

[Even that distinction isn't a bright line; the Dead Marshes could be seen as an exercise in Art according to a dark Sauronian aesthetic, whereas Finrod's "arts" disguising himself and Beren as Orcs were clearly aimed at deception]
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Old 06-12-2016, 02:28 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Gothmog, LoB View Post
I get that in principle, of course. But how this is to be imagined in actuality, is my eye sight getting better, do I become quicker of mind and body, more intelligent, do I get more creative, etc. if I wear a Ring of Power? Is it really that? If so, this has little to do with technology because that only affects the outside world not what's within you - especially if we are talking about 'the Machine'.
No just a means to do things more effectively. Like a bulldozer rather than tons of men wielding shovels. I think the Rings did effect the bearers internally because for Elves they were meant to stay the fading that effected their bodies. Fading of course is the body eventually being destroyed, since they grow weaker with time. The spirit and the body of the Elves, which Finrod believed to be derived from the taint of Melkor, could not long endure together. So the body basically became but a memory held by the spirit. I think that this was the reason that mortals felt stretched while bearing these Rings because the effects were meant to be borne by immortals, not mortals. The machine, however, to me, is about the use of devices to make the use of inherent abilities more effective in their application. We are to some degree, in M-E dealing with such devices, Rings of Power.
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Old 06-30-2016, 07:06 PM   #19
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The dangers of Post-Modernism abound. And I tend to be immediately suspect of anyone who cites Foucault.

There is a reason Tolkien placed such a heavy emphasis upon words:

They have specific meanings.

And there is a reason that "Author" and "Authority" have the same roots.

Suggesting that the Author, or the designated heir of a work, has the last word on that work, even if they are dead. Although being dead does present problems for unanswered questions, it does leave the answered questions as rather fixed.

With that in mind, there is a difference between the works of an author (an "authority" on their work/creation) who says "Things are X, Y, and Z, in this world.", and the works of an author who says "I just laid out the framework, and every reader brings something different to the work in question."

Of course these two poles are rarely absolutes, but there are authors who lie very much closer to one pole than the other.

And it very much seems that Tolkien lies very much closer to the former pole than the latter. As the context of his work forbids some interpretations (Frodo and Aragorn as Sub-Saharan Africans, or Mandarin Chinese, just as a couple of examples we can easily rule out), and it fairly closely constrains it to certain types of imagery and cultures within our world, whether allegorically, or simply as Archetypes (something Tolkien was himself unaware of, but that is irrelevant as to whether he was affected by them, just as his being unaware of how Gravity functions makes him no less affected by it).

But there remains still rather a lot of "wiggle" room for interpretation of his works.

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