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Old 06-11-2003, 02:03 PM   #1
Thenamir
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Sting Elves, Men, and Perceptions of Time

This is a highly-condensed log of the chat in the Downs chatroom on Wednesday, June 11. I thought it interesting enough to post here and seek other comments. Enjoy!

Thenamir

=========================================

[Bethberry] I wonder, Thena, do you suppose that elves understood time the same way that men and hobbits and dwarves did?

[hanna|OSH] not likely Bb

[Legolas] Maybe, Bethberry, but I guess Elves measured in larger chunks of time.

[Legolas] Elves might measure in smaller chunks of time, since they're immortal, bored, and have plenty to do.

[Bethberry] smaller or larger, Legolas?

[Legolas] I can't decide.

[Legolas] I know they measure in months, weeks, etc. and then they measure in yeni ..

[Thenamir] In answer to your question, Bb, I have no definitive idea, but it is my feeling that they perceived time in the same manner as dwarves and men, but it means less to them because of their endless lives.

[hanna|OSH] When the fellowship was in Lorien time was speeded up.

[Legolas] And what Thenamir said.

[Thenamir] In other words, men and dwarves are probably more concerned about time, more prone to hurry-up-and-get-things-done kind of thinking. Elves don't have that problem.

[Bethberry] That is their problem then, that they cannot appreciate time and change.

[Legolas] Of course elves don't like change.

[Thenamir] Well, on the other hand, they appreciated time and change enough to forge rings to try to prevent the ravages of time from affecting their environments

[Thenamir] They were concerned about time in the manner that they knew it would alter the things they thought most beautiful

[Nova|OSH] why don't they like changes?

[Bethberry] But that was more a rejection of change rather than a desire to direct change in positive ways, no?

[Thenamir] Exactly

[Legolas] They don't like change, period.

[Legolas] They want to keep things the way they are.

[Thenamir] I think they perceived the passing of time as we do, but did not want it to affect them

[Legolas] And they are content with that.

[Legolas] But in the Third Age, the Elves realized that they couldn't really do anything to stop Middle-Earth from changing, it seems.

[Legolas] So they just let the Men take over and they went to Valinor.

[Thenamir] It's kind of like the colonists in the movie "Star Trek: Insurrection" -- they did not age, and presumably would live forever if they stayed on that planet, so it did not matter to them that they would spend 40 years as an "apprentice" at some skill -- becuase they would have unlimited time to learn and grow.

[Legolas] Yes.

[Bethberry] But ironically this produced the opposite effect.

[Thenamir] How so, Bb?

[Legolas] They learned and grew and yet limited themselves to the outside world?

[Legolas] Or to themselves, rather.

[Thenamir] The great thing about the elves is that they used the time they had to continue to create and mature. Men, given the same opportunity, would waste their time rather than using it wisely.

[Bethberry] I'm not sure we can say that about elves, Thena, that they did use their time wisely.

[Bethberry] The elves in The Silm were particularly childish, petulant, selfish, willful.

[Thenamir] Well, I mean in the sense that they became well-skilled in many crafts and arts

[Legolas] Bethberry, but the Elves learned from their mistakes.

[Bethberry] Did they?

[Legolas] They didn't give birth to another Feanor

[Thenamir] It is worthy of note that, once the elves realized they could no longer preserve their little slices of the past, they high-tailed it to Valinor.

[Silme] I would have done the same thing

[HorseMaiden] I thought it was quite ignorant, though, how they believed they were the only beings capable of speech in Beleriand, and when they met the men they were surprised that they could speak.

[Legolas] When you're the Firstborn, you think that you're the only ones capable.

[Thenamir] It may be worthy of note that this may be the reason that Elves were only a temporary part of the great Theme of Iluvatar -- they were the ones who wanted no change...men could embrace and adapt to change.

[Silme] embrace? well, at least cope with it

[Legolas] So the Elves were afraid of disappearing from the world?

[Legolas] I would be too ..

[Bethberry] Thena, did Iluvatar see that the elves would be a temporary part?

[Thenamir] Men want to advance, make things better. Elves want to stay the same. Men are progressive, elves are stagnant.

[Thenamir] men can see that the future holds promise. Elves think the best days are already behind them.

[Thenamir] Iluvatar *Composed* the Theme, Bb. He foresaw it all.

* Legolas certainly can understand why the elves are so bitter.

[Legolas] The whole WORLD

[Thenamir] Men look forward. Elves look back.

[Silme] Thena, did he foresee the other theme of Melkor?

[Bethberry] then we run into all the problem of whether he expected the maring of Arda.

[Silme] the discordance?

[Nova] Elves look back for what reason?

[Silme] nostalgia

[Bethberry] I think many first readers of LOTR do not see that aspect of the elves.
[Legolas] Men seem to run blindly forth, while Elves just sit and ponder.

[Thenamir] Silme, I certainly think so. FOr in the Silmarillion he said "None can alter the theme in My despite, for in so doing he will see that his changes are only part of the theme after all, that no part of the theme can exist without having its ultimate source in Me." That's a paraphrase, but close.

[Silme] thanks, Thena, just a thought

[Thenamir] [Legolas] Men seem to run blindly forth, while Elves just sit and ponder. <<--- That's a good point Legolas -- men are not afraid to make [and learn from] mistakes by going forth blindly. The Elves were too afraid of change to do that.
===================================

The conversation degenerated back to the usual chaos after that...
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Old 06-11-2003, 06:03 PM   #2
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Tolkien himself condemned the Elves for their tendency towards 'embalming' trying to stop change.

This is however principly the weakness of the Exiles, who'd become accustomed to the changelessness, or rather snail paced, change of Aman. So this weakness of the Elves may in fact be due to the meddling of the Valar.

Galadriel is the most flagrant 'embalmer' using the power of her Ring to turn Lorien into a faux-Aman with 'trees and grasses that do not die'. Thus showing a chilling degree of detachment from the normal cycles of life.

Elrond, probably due to his Sindarin and Mortal blood, seems able to cope with change. At least Rivendell doesn't have the unnatural atmosphere of Lorien. Neither does Thranduil's Woodland Realm. Sindar and Silvan Elves may not be thrilled by the quick rate of change in ME but are unperturbed by the natural cycles of life. Presumably this is one of the reasons they decided *not* to go to Aman.
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Old 06-12-2003, 09:51 AM   #3
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Couldn't have said it better myself. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] Elves are, what I like to call them, 'changeaphobic'. Although that's understandable, they were born before the Sun, when all the plants were *sleeping*, and most of them went straight off to Aman, where change was a taboo (at least, that's how I see it).
And then the Sun shows up and ruins the whole non-change thing!
And we only have Melkor to blame for that....
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Old 06-12-2003, 08:28 PM   #4
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I disagree. Primarily we have the Valar to blame. For abandoning Middle Earth in the first place, for removing the Elves from it, and of course for turning Melkor loose! Though I actually have a certain sympathy for that last one - he was after all their brother, naturally they wanted to believe he'd seen the error of his ways and come back to the lightside.

I don't think much of their denying illumination to Middle Earth by hoarding the light of the Two Trees either. They could have leveled the Pelori, (remember Melkor was imprisoned and the reason for the barrier removed) and let the light flow oversea to the 'wide lands. Better still they could have left Aman and gone to live among the Elves to protect them from the evils left behind by Melkor yet leaving them free to develope their own way in their rightful home.

No question about it, the Valar were miserable failures as guardians.
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Old 06-12-2003, 08:33 PM   #5
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Just a thought here- If we were to say that Galadriel was among the most change-phobic of the Elves, then could there be a reason for that? A reason why Elves, particularly older ones, would want things not to change? Galadriel witnessed a huge amount of change, most noticeably the change that seemed to follow Feanor around where ever he went. Poor guy.
But back on topic... Could this be a reason (I'm not saying the reason) that Lothlorien collectively was far more resistant to change than the two other major elvish kingdoms of the time? Lothlorien had Galadriel behind it, with her ring, holding off change. In Imladris, the Elves didn't seem to be particularly fond of change (as already stated), but they dealt with it. They even tried to do what they could to make sure things changed for the best. Elrond seemed to use the power of his ring to try to aid what changes were happening, to try to tweak them, forsee them, etc. In Mirkwood, things changed and to be sure the Elves there weren't very fond of evil creatures suddenly (or not so suddenly) invading their forest, but they dealt with it. Could these two attitudes of "dealing with the change" be attributed to who was ruling over each? Elrond was not born in Aman, did not witness the changes Feanor brought there firsthand. Nor did Thranduil, or to my knowledge Oropher. So possibly they were less afraid of change?

Those were just some thoughts I wanted to toss out there...
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:44 AM   #6
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Sting

Great ideas, those. The High Elves, in my opinion, were VERY changeaphobic. I do believe that the Valar can be blamed for that. Imagine, living in a place where nothing ever changes, and then someone like Feanor shows up and turns everything upside down. Hard to deal with, right?
Middle Earth's Elves did not really have a problem with change, or like you said, they could deal with it.
And I agree that the Valar were not the best of guardians.
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:58 AM   #7
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Perhaps the elves resist change because often change is not an improvement for their own way of life. When you have such a long perspective on things it would tend to create an attitude that change means a cycle of disappointment, loss, and sometimes destruction. Galadriel made the biggest change in her life in coming to Middle Earth. I think Galadriel was conflicted because she loved Middle Earth but knew that it would be necessary for her and other elves to leave in order for Middle Earth to become what it had been created to be. So she made Lothlorien an environment that slowed down time for her so at least in perception she could prolong her stay.

Perhaps elves can only truly have an eternal perspective when they are removed from temporal influences like men. Time would seem different if people were not dying all around you, if seasons never passed, if nothing much changed. I think as long as elves interact with men and dwarves they experience time from a more temporal perspective.

That's my take on it. Thanks for sharing this fascinating discussion.

[ June 13, 2003: Message edited by: greyhavener ]
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Old 06-13-2003, 09:19 AM   #8
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What we must keep in mind is the 'High Elves' changephobia, as exemplified by Galadriel, is unnatural and due to their stay in 'timeless' Aman. Which is btw as unnatural an enviroment for them as it is for Men, (though the harm is less immediate and obvious).

The Professor in his letters says that one of the less worthy reasons the Exiles like Middle Earth because there they're at the top of the tree instead of at the foot as in Aman. But they dread 'fading' and ultimately giving way to Men and some of them, (Galadriel and Celebrimbor most notably) tried to slow or halt the rate of change, not caring what such intereference might do to the development of Middle Earth. Or maybe thinking their judgment was better than Eru's!

Elves born in ME, such as Elrond and Gil-Galad, though no more thrilled about 'fading' than anybody else were resigned to accepting the inevitable. 'Fading' is the fate Eru designed for the Elves, as their age gave way to the age of Men. We must therefore assume it is not a bad thing, whatever the Elves may think, and trying to prevent or resist it is as impious and unwise as Mortal Men's attempt to escape their Gift.

Fading may indeed prove to be preferable to endless eons in Aman, Tolkien does say even the Powers will come to envy the Gift of Men.

[ June 13, 2003: Message edited by: Morwen Tindomerel ]
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Old 06-13-2003, 01:42 PM   #9
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Something Morwen Tindomerel said got me thinking again.
Quote:
Fading may indeed prove to be preferable to endless eons in Aman, Tolkien does say even the Powers will come to envy the Gift of Men.
The Gift of Men is death. Natural death where the body wears out. Tolkien made dying seem to be a pretty big change- a change the Elves weren't guaranteed. Sure, they can be killed in battle, drown, or whatever form of rather unpleasant death they'd like, but they won't die naturally. Maybe men could accept change far easier than the Elves because of the great change they were guaranteed- natural death.

The subject of natural death can figure into the perception of time too. Men have a point at which life (on this plane of existence anyway) ends. The Elves didn't have that. Even if their bodies died, they could be re-embodied as demonstrated by Glorfindel. Thus, no end here. Maybe time seems to pass faster to men because they (ah...we) die- guaranteed. If you look at it one way, all of life is preparation for death. Men could use life to prepare for that natural death that awaits them (if nothing else happens in the meantime to speed up the process).

Elves, granted life without natural death, have nothing to prepare for. Time seems to slow down for them, because they have no end. They fade, but they still live.

On a related note to this- Possibly the long lives of Numenoreans (did I get that right?) prior to starting to fear death can be attributed to this in some way. Without a fear, they did not prepare, and ultimately lived longer lives. They still were granted the Gift of Men by Iluvatar though, so they could not altogether escape death. Anyway, when they started to fear, started to prepare for that death, they lived shorter lives. Much later, Aragorn managed to die without fearing death. He also lived longer than expected. Of course, he had the blood in his veins that granted him a rather long life anyway, but (as far as I can remember without having the book handy) he lived even longer. Possibly because he stopped (at least partially) fearing death and stopped preparing for it?
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Old 06-14-2003, 05:29 AM   #10
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Sting

I suspect it comes back to the inevitability of death, which affects the Elves as much as the mortal races, but in a different way, obviously.

The Elves are motivated to 'do something about death'. How can (from their point of view) death be 'natural', when they themselves, the MOST natural beings, closest to nature, with the greatest love of nature, don't truly die. Its WRONG, so it needs putting right. So they make the Rings....

The Elves are too backward looking to think about the future is the way men would. The future simply could not be as good as the past has been. It will happen, indeed, they're stuck with it - but they don't have to like it! If they can stop it, great! Embalm the world, freeze that one perfect moment.

At the same time, lets keep in mind that for an elf who's lived in the world for thousands of years, the amount of death they would have experienced, natural & unnnatural, must have been appalling. Its understandable that they would be tempted to stop it, if only for a short time. But their pride came out, the rings were too tempting for them, & they fell.

So Galadriel's rejection of the One, is that much more moving, her acceptance of the Inevitability of Death, change, rather than taking it & embalming ME, against its nature & the will of Eru.
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Old 06-15-2003, 03:27 PM   #11
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Quote:
The Elves are motivated to 'do something about death'. How can (from their point of view) death be 'natural', when they themselves, the MOST natural beings, closest to nature, with the greatest love of nature, don't truly die. Its WRONG, so it needs putting right. So they make the Rings....
It's ironic that the creatures who seem to be so close to nature that they practically are nature cannot do what nature does best- naturally die. I heard somewhere that many people believe the Elves are symbols of nature in the Lord of the Rings. But how can this be when the Elves can't do what nature finds necessary? In the winter, a plant dies, not fades. When a "winter" of sorts strikes Middle-Earth the undying-ness (not a word, is it?) of the Elves is brought into greater focus as they fade and leave while Men die as the world changes.

Also, I think Davem is correct about Galadriel's rejection of the One Ring. She has the chance, right there, to take the power to hold back the future, hold back change, and hold back death, but she does not take it. In a way, I find this to be symbolic of the Elves' resignation to their fate to live and fade with time rather than live and die with time.
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Old 06-16-2003, 08:32 PM   #12
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Sting

B.B - when I saw the title of this thread, "Elves, Men, and the Perception of Time", it made me recall a facinating episode of Nova that I saw a while back.

It dealt with how the body's metabolism actually effects how we perceive the world around us. For instance: when an older person comments on how fast the seasons and years pass, he is not just waxing poetic. Time really does "speed up" as we age, due to our slower metabolism.

Size effects this, too. An elephant perceives humans as skittering around with the speed of mice. Mice perceive humans as lumbering and languid as elephants.

Makes you wonder how the body of an immortal would perceive Middle Earth. Did the sun scamper across the sky and set in a "blink of an eye". Could they speak to a mortal and watch the signs of aging creep across their face? Did it seem that Elves never slept because their bodies' circadian rhythms were measured in weeks or months, rather than hours?

No wonder they wanted to freeze time.
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