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Old 04-17-2021, 07:17 PM   #1
Boromir88
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"Canonicity II": Has Yours Changed?

I was going to revive this relic and gem of a thread: 'Canonicity': The Book or the Reader?, but then I got to thinking how over my time on this forum my own canon, and thoughts about it have changed quite dramatically. Then in other threads, there has been a few discussions about canon, so I feel like it will be a good topic to ask how has your thoughts about canon changed over the years? Or maybe it hasn't changed at all?

As a teenager and young adult first getting enchanted into the "Lore", I had a strict, or what you might call a Hobbitish view of canon:

Quote:
"...they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions"~Prologue to Lord of the Rings
Everything had to be neat, clean, categorized and explained; absolutely no contradictions. As I started reading more than The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit however, trying to come up with "no contradictions" canon, was I daresay impossible. I think it actually soured my experience, and "broke the enchantment" (to refer to another thread from the days of old).

Interestingly, it was actually an interview Leonard Nimoy did (oh I think it was 7-8 years ago) talking about Star Trek fans and the remake of the Star Trek movies that were coming out that changed my views on Tolkien's canon. Leonard Nimoy said:

Quote:
“Canon is only important to certain people because they have to cling to their knowledge of the minutiae, open your mind! Be a ‘Star Trek’ fan and open your mind and say, ‘Where does Star Trek want to take me now’"
I thought Mr. Nimoy's words were completely fitting for the Star Trek universe. Even though that is a different world, why can't the same question apply? "Where does Tolkien want to take me now?"

I would say I've done a complete 180. If "Hobbitish canon" is the "no contradictions view" what would be the opposite? Perhaps, "fan canon?" Because I'm in the "whatever you personally get out of the story that leads you to enjoy it as much as I have" camp. 15 years ago I probably never thought I would change this much, but my "enchantment" has been glued together again. I find it funny that it was actually a quote from a brilliant Star Trek actor that revived my enjoyment of Tolkien.

I have to attribute it to how my "Hobbitish" impulse eventually restricted my enjoyment. Anyone else go through this over the years or change how they balance canon with their own personal fan-canon?
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:33 PM   #2
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I have definitely mellowed on my definition of canon in the past decade and a half from a rigid "it's what's written in the books with the latest published iteration settling any disputes" position. I mean, that's still basically my principle, but it isn't as rigid.

Mostly, I think, with a little more life behind me and with a fair amount of pondering things that might matter a bit more (like, the canon of Scripture), I find that I don't quite know how to define canon. Is it "what actually happened in Middle-earth," which is a bit nonsensical a question for fiction. Is it "what Tolkien intended," which requires an answer to the question of WHEN and also admits of no obvious authority (Tolkien being dead and all). I've had to settle on "well, canon is what I think happened." This is generally consistent and it does have an authority I can appeal to... it just takes all the ammunition out of telling someone else they're wrong, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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Old 04-18-2021, 03:49 AM   #3
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But without Hobbitish Canon how else can we spend hours and days and even years debating whether or not Balrogs have wings based on a few words?

Oddly I May Say while I won’t go so far as to say I’m Hobbitish now I will say I’ve grown more strict. Not to the point of “this is how it is and nothing else” but I understood Lord of the Rings needed to be adapted for screen, some things that worked on the page simply don’t on screen. However The Hobbit trilogy just made up so much to fill three movies it soured the films. I could have accepted two two hour films MAYBE three two hour films, however there simply isn’t enough lore in the Hobbit to warrant a trilogy as long as LoTR.

Perhaps my more strict interpretation of the books is just a rebellion against the films. It could also be the fact I haven’t had time to sit down and watch the films whereas I can listen to the books in my car so the books have become my main intake of the material.

I dare say, though, Tolkien was human and has left plenty of room for interpretation and debate and head canon. I think the recent thread Letter of the Law is a prime example of this. Indeed, forums like this sort of prove the inconsistent lore is not only present but important to the survival of a story.

Someone recently mentioned Tolkien wrote the books as translated Historical Documents. True enough but using this as a base we have certain agreed to facts as well as “new translations”, unreliable narrators, and one author who wrote millions of words on this world from Silmarilion to LoTR to UT and even his letters that expand it all even further, of course there’s contradictions and ways to enjoy it and discuss. Now contrast this with a far older historical text, Encyclopedia Britannica, I could be wrong but there’s no forums dedicated to debating its contents because it’s just a recitation of facts that no one really disputes. I’m sure scholars have updated it as facts arise, but the changes are not from people’s interpretation or Head Canon.

So at the end of the day like Gandalf choosing Bilbo for being both Tookish and Baggins...ish?*(Thanks Inzil we need a mix of the two to maintain the magic. Too strict there’s no discussion, too loose and you get Radagast covered in Bird Poo and an albino orc just popping into existence.
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Old 04-18-2021, 07:04 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
Mostly, I think, with a little more life behind me and with a fair amount of pondering things that might matter a bit more (like, the canon of Scripture), I find that I don't quite know how to define canon. Is it "what actually happened in Middle-earth," which is a bit nonsensical a question for fiction. Is it "what Tolkien intended," which requires an answer to the question of WHEN and also admits of no obvious authority (Tolkien being dead and all). I've had to settle on "well, canon is what I think happened." This is generally consistent and it does have an authority I can appeal to... it just takes all the ammunition out of telling someone else they're wrong, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I think that's where the Tolkien fandom differs from other fandoms, like Star Wars or Star Trek. This website is pretty much my only experience interacting with other Tolkien fans. I've joined other forums, but I think they were all purged in the spambot attacks or I just never contributed. What I've found here is there really is a lot of debate and differences over "what is canon?" Which feels different from Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms.

I think there is "Author canon" (or for us, Tolkien canon) that is everything the author ever wrote or said in his life is considered canon. Even within that there are different opinions. Formendacil says he places more weight on what Tolkien wrote last. There are others (from the great Canon thread) that would probably say it's whatever ideas Tolkien held onto the longest, or others who accept Lord of the Rings as the only authorial canon. If another one of Tolkien's stories contradicts the Lord of the Rings, then whatever is written in Lord of the Rings is "true." That's just a few general arguments over "what is an author's canon?" And it is hard to define when there are so many differences within a fandom.

Then Morsul brings up an interesting point and that is "adaptive canon." How do adaptations of Tolkien's works change the canon? Whether I like to admit it or not, the LOTR movies changed my reading of the books (not The Hobbit, because it gets so far removed from the story, that I wouldn't even call it "adaptive canon.") Legate commented to me elsewhere that when he first saw the trailer to FOTR, he hated the look of Boromir. Sean Bean in a strawberry blonde wig was not at all how Boromir was 'supposed' to look. But after watching the film he thought Boromir was treated the best, or was the best representation of his book counterpart.

That was interesting because Sean Bean's Boromir is in my opinion, softer and a less haughty Boromir. However, when you do read the text you get glimpses that even if he's obstinate and argues a lot over where to lead the Fellowship, there was a relationship and high level of respect shown between him and Aragorn. That's the Boromir who gets highlighted in the films and now I honestly don't think it's possible to read the book and not go in with the preconceived vision "Sean Bean is Boromir."

I called it "fan canon" in my first post, but actually I think I prefer "head canon." "Head canon" would be, in my opinion, represented in the linked Letter of the Law Thread. That may not be a perfect example, but it is one's personalized interpretation of the text. Therefore, it's your own interpretation of what is "true." Head canon has no weight, except to yourself, but I've always found the acceptance of it on the Barrow-downs refreshing.

That's not to say "anything goes" here. Like, "I think Galadriel is actually a man who cross-dresses, because it's said that she competed with the greatest athletes of the Noldor in her youth. And a woman could not compete on the same level as male athletes." I mean if I were to seriously make that argument here, I know I'd have to come with far more ammunition than a single quote about Galadriel equaling the mightiest Noldor athletes.

But my point is there seems to be a lack of "fandom canon," which is I think positive as a community. For example, I think the Star Wars fandom (and I could be wrong because I've never been personally engaged into that community, just observations from others who are) there is a canon that seems "whatever is widely agreed on by the majority is the Truth." Here, I've never had the feeling. I mean, to me it's simple Balrog's don't have wings, but there's never been a "community canon" that shouts down opposing opinions. So, like Form I find it hard to define what canon is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
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Old 04-18-2021, 01:47 PM   #5
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For me, no, my standard of canon has not really changed although my opinions about some things within that canon have changed.

For me the biggest change I've had since my early days is an increasing understanding of what I consider to be flaws in Tolkien's writing, either conceptually or structurally, although in these latter days I tend to worry less about those.

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Here, I've never had the feeling. I mean, to me it's simple Balrog's don't have wings, but there's never been a "community canon" that shouts down opposing opinions.
I don't know about that. I've seen debates in the Tolkien community get pretty consistently heated sometimes.
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Old 04-20-2021, 03:12 PM   #6
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I don't think it has, in the sense that I don't really care - or, to put it a little less brusquely, the quest for an established canon, the attempt to canonise an authoritative text of Tolkien's legendarium and weed out uncanonical variants, doesn't interest me very much.

The discussion here reminded me of Mnemo's old thread Tolkien and Negative Capability, and revisiting it I found I can still largely subscribe to what I wrote back then. Also I still think the distinction of writing vs worldbuilding is relevant here. Let me try to explain.

If your focus of interest is in Middle-earth as a secondary world to be fleshed out in fan fic or role-playing games, you'll want to keep it coherent and lore-friendly. You'll have to make up your mind whether sentient demonic cats are a thing in this world, or only sentient demonic wolves, and whether the vampire Thuringwethil was a werebat or something more Dracula-like; and if you want to use Tevildo and Oikeroi you can't have Sauron and Draugluin/Carcharoth in the same setting.

If, on the the other hand, your interest is in Tolkien's writings as works of literature, the existence of widely differing versions is in itself not a problem; but there's a further bifurcation. If you approach the Professor's writings as a philologist trying to establish a definitive text of What Tolkien Intended (or at least What Tolkien intended at a given time) you're back at the quest for coherence, sorting canonic wheat from uncanonic chaff.

But if you just read Tolkien for your own aesthetic pleasure (and if you haven't guessed it, this is my preferred approach) all that ceases to be a problem, and you can appreciate each and any stage of the legendarium for its own merits. You can have Tevildo and Carcharoth living happily side by side in your imagination (as far as this is possible for felines and canines); you can have the fairy-tale BoLT story of Melko being chased up the Great Pine of Palúrien (again, much like a cat!), but also the metaphysic speculations of Morgoth's Ring, and I wouldn't want to forego either.
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Old 04-20-2021, 04:40 PM   #7
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For me, anyway, my attitude is very process-oriented. Tolkien's corpus, published and un-, is a collective artifact which was the work of one author's lifetime. Sometimes he changed his mind. Sometimes he made mistakes. That is what I find fascinating. I just don't see much point in efforts to rather artificially determine One Truth when there is no underlying truth- it's all fiction.
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Note on 'adaptive canon'- no way. Does not and can not exist, any more than The Ten Commandments is 'adaptive' Scriptural canon.
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Old 04-20-2021, 05:00 PM   #8
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My Cannon is Tolkiens published works and i think the published Silmarillion must be or no consensus can be made. I hold post LOTR writings that went unpublished by J.R.R as close to cannon as can be.


For me, I do what J.R.R did in his letters time and again, resolve supposed contradictions and mistakes. And don't hold every word he ever wrote as cannon, only published materials he finished and Christophers published Silmarillion.
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Old 04-21-2021, 03:16 PM   #9
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For me, canon equals author-published material.

With respect to "in story" texts: the rest is JRRT in the process of making more canon

With respect to the revised foreword to The Lord of the Rings, this is an external text (JRRT writing as the author), and thus not canon for me. In general I think it's open to something like the Death Of Author principle.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
Everything had to be neat, clean, categorized and explained; absolutely no contradictions. As I started reading more than The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit however, . . .
But there are un-neat, unclean, unexplained things, along with arguable contradictions, in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including an unreliable narrator in Bilbo, for example.


Quote:
. . . trying to come up with "no contradictions" canon, was I daresay impossible. I think it actually soured my experience, and "broke the enchantment" (to refer to another thread from the days of old).
I'll put it this way: some of the posthumously published corpus started chipping away at the story, undermining it, and thus, breaking the enchantment. Folks naturally want the/a story, and Tolkien, likewise naturally, didn't want readers to see its process . . . which is not a jab at Christopher Tolkien for publishing anything. Christopher Tolkien wasn't trying to create canon in any case, nor undermine it, I would think.


I've invented (or maybe not) a term "false contradiction", and I mean something like this (for a mostly made up example).

A) Tolkien publishes a limited history of Rohan in Appendix A.

B) Tolkien writes a long history of Rohan, but mistakenly contradicts a couple of things in Appendix A.

C) Tolkien writes another extended history of Rohan. This time nothing arguably conflicts with Appendix A, but this version rather noticeably conflicts with "text B" in many areas.

Certainly there are contradictions when we compare the three texts, but is it fair to a subcreator/writer to claim that the History of Rohan is "now" (post-posthumously-published-papers) full of contradictions?

I say it's full of false contradictions. Tolkien was working toward the history of Rohan.

Or in other words, more of A, author published work
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Old 04-22-2021, 03:40 PM   #10
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Boromir88, you picked quite a classic thread to piggyback upon. I didn't wander all the way through, and I don't think I contributed to it way back when. But I do recall my own posts on the subject, and, looking back, I may have changed my views a bit.

I once posted a "scale" of canonicity; (1) works published during JRRT's lifetime; (2) The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales; (3) late volumes from HoME. I might change this a bit now. In term's of the "author's canon," meaning what JRRT intended, clearly some iteration of The Silmarillion was to be part of the canon. Because I think that he intended the Three Great Tales from the First Age (Beren and Luthien, the children of Hurin and the Fall of Gondolin, together with Earendil, all "mannish tales") to be expanded in the fashion seen in Unfinished Tales (grievously without Beren), I would tend to give those iterations greater weight. I at one time believed that one might be able to glean JRRT's final intent from study of HoME, particularly the last few volumes, for a full picture of the Silmarillion, but now think that at least some of Morgoth's Ring, while fascinating, was in the nature of an exploration regarding whether the fundamentals of the Silmarillion could be changed.

So perhaps I am retreating to a reader-centric view of canon, particularly since I am of the school that likes to find consistency (or explanations that work within the framework of the mythos) in his writing. I also appreciate his works as a history and literary evolution. In short, everyone gets to pick and choose a bit.
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Old 04-23-2021, 11:16 AM   #11
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Great treasure troving, Boro

A bit of irrelevant information about the original Canonicity thread: As it turns out our Mr. Fordham Hedgethistle was a grad student in an English department of which a friend of mine was the head. Oh the things Facebook helps us learn! I vaguely teased him a bit but did not challenge him or dox him, as that I thought would be really unfair or unethical.

But what a small world the internet is.
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Old 04-30-2021, 01:18 PM   #12
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I think there is a tendency often to very much exaggerate the degree of Authorial Intent to be attached to the published text of the Lord of the Rings, as if "This is FINAL and OFFICIAL and represents Tolkien's consciously determined LAST WORD." The more I work with Tolkien's manuscripts, the clearer it is to me that this is not at all the case; that the text published in 1954-55 represents merely a contingent state, a transverse cut across an ongoing development that became "fixed" not because Tolkien had decided that it was finished, final and complete, but because it was physically taken out of his hands so that he couldn't continue to monkey with it. Even in the course of the typescript for the printers - weeks and months past deadline - he was rewriting things. Even on the galley proofs (which for normal authors exist to correct typos), he was rewriting things. Had not Rayner Unwin practically put a gun to his head and made him give up the papers, he probably would have spent the last two decades of his life continuing to alter and reshape The Lord of the Rings just as he did with The Silmarillion.
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Old 04-30-2021, 05:19 PM   #13
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Yes but William, what about the art of subcreation? Something has to be the story, and even Tolkien bowed to that.

And if JRRT wants to niggle away for years, no problem, but he's still working toward a story to be published. And if he could change his mind about something right up to the point that that something was physically taken from him -- I'd say all the more reason to consider author-published work as canon. At least we know "that much" about a given thing: it prevailed into the Secondary World.


And even when JRRT just couldn't help himself, he still realized that stepping on already published work is simply not the same as continuing to niggle or revise aspects of the subcreated world that nobody knows about. The Secondary World exists on bookshelves for a once and future readership.

Quote:
"It may be suggested that whereas my father set great store by consistency at all points with The Lord of the Rings and the Appendices, so little concerning the First Age had appeared in print that he was under far less constraint. I am inclined to think, however, that the primary explanation of these differences lies rather in his writing largely from memory. The histories of the First Age would always remain in a somewhat fluid state so long as they were not fixed in a published state; and he certainly did not have all the relevant manuscripts clearly arranged and set out before him."

Foreword, The Peoples of Middle-Earth
To me, this is another way to say that Tolkien (and quite naturally in my opinion), treats fixed work as canon.


Ursula Le Guin did some fancy dancing with Earthsea, for another example I've used in the past. But she herself published the later books of course, leaving no question as to whether she truly wanted to shine such a new light on Earthsea.
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Old 05-01-2021, 09:16 AM   #14
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Quote:
Quote:
"It may be suggested that whereas my father set great store by consistency at all points with The Lord of the Rings and the Appendices, so little concerning the First Age had appeared in print that he was under far less constraint. I am inclined to think, however, that the primary explanation of these differences lies rather in his writing largely from memory. The histories of the First Age would always remain in a somewhat fluid state so long as they were not fixed in a published state; and he certainly did not have all the relevant manuscripts clearly arranged and set out before him."

Foreword, The Peoples of Middle-Earth
To me, this is another way to say that Tolkien (and quite naturally in my opinion), treats fixed work as canon.
Or is Christopher saying that, without a bound book ready to hand and his manuscripts in disorder, his father's memory couldn't keep it all straight? This would apply especially to the 'late writings' 1968-73, since not only was Tolkien elderly, but due to an unfortunate accident his papers had become hopelessly jumbled during the move to Bournemouth. To take one example of his fading mental powers: the Glorfindel essays state that he was now stuck with the name because it had appeared in print in the Lord of the Rings, therefore Glorfindel of Rivendell must necessarily be the same person as Glorfindel of Gondolin and an explanation of how this was possible was necessary. But of course, there was nothing whatsoever preventing him from just renaming the Gondolin hero; it seems he was getting somewhat confused (or he could have let it ride, as he did with Legolas and Galdor)
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Old 05-05-2021, 10:10 AM   #15
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Or is Christopher saying that, without a bound book ready to hand and his manuscripts in disorder, his father's memory couldn't keep it all straight?
I think he's saying that as well -- after the first sentence about consistency with already published works

Which brings up another issue: if Tolkien simply forgets something already in print and "steps on it" in a late text, has he truly, consciously revised that something?

Quote:
This would apply especially to the 'late writings' 1968-73, since not only was Tolkien elderly, but due to an unfortunate accident his papers had become hopelessly jumbled during the move to Bournemouth. To take one example of his fading mental powers: the Glorfindel essays state that he was now stuck with the name because it had appeared in print in the Lord of the Rings, therefore Glorfindel of Rivendell must necessarily be the same person as Glorfindel of Gondolin and an explanation of how this was possible was necessary. But of course, there was nothing whatsoever preventing him from just renaming the Gondolin hero; it seems he was getting somewhat confused (or he could have let it ride, as he did with Legolas and Galdor)

I think the late Glorfindel text II contains a good example of Tolkien following his canon: in this text he negates the idea that Glorfindel might have been Sindarin -- negating it due to what is already in print -- if Glorfindel of Gondolin is supposed to be the same person as Glorfindel of Rivendell of course. In other words, The Lord of the Rings comes first, or in other other words, JRRT will naturally try to figure out the scenario giving top priority to already published description.

In other other other words, don't break the enchantment here.

And in my opinion, in this late text Tolkien is simply choosing to see if a satisfactory answer can emerge without altering the name of the Elf of Gondolin, and if not, he has the option of altering it.

I think a good example of Tolkien's shaky memory here might be the late detail that Gondolin was occupied by a people of almost entirely Noldorin origin, which is closer to the original conception of Gondolin's folk than description found in The Grey Annals.

Last edited by Galin; 05-05-2021 at 03:15 PM.
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