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Old 08-13-2006, 10:01 PM   #1
radagastly
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I have not started a thread in a long time. I hope this intrigues everyone and offends no one.

The title above is taken from Peter S. Beagle, in his prologue/essay titled "Tolkien's Magic Ring" as it appears in my version of The Tolkien Reader. (Ballentine Books, printed in the U. S. in 1966, paperback). I do not intend this to be an exploration (necessarily) of Tolkien's minor works, but of Tolkien's work, of his world. Of Middle Earth, of Arda, of Ea.

This is not a small question, and I am completely convinced that I am not qualified to ask, but without questions, there cannot be answers.

Not that I expect any concrete answers. The question is so personal. And universal.

Tolkien's work is a mythology. Not just a myth, a story from an elevated world, geared to teach us about ourselves, make us think about ourselves, but a mythology, a portrayal, a history, of that world from which myths come. Or is it?

Tolkien's work has a cohesiveness, a continuity that is lacking in the rest of the world's mythologies. Ancient Egypt's myths are, at best, beautiful and mysterious, only becase the information we have limits our perception of THEIR view of the universe. We don't know what they believed, only what their "Bible" tells us what they believed. The text we have gives us the mythic stories, but not in a cultural context. Archeologists have found vast bakeries, where the bread was baked that paid the builders of the pyramids, which made the beer that helped them pass the time. Certainly, at least a few of those bakers had a story to tell, a context from which to understand, at least a little, those people's idea of their universe.

The same can be said for most, if not all, of the various mythologies of the world. The ancient Greek playwrites clearly had an opinion of their religion, which gives a smattering of context, but not a clear understanding of their lives and their relationship to their idea of the nature of the universe. It is, perhaps, too specific, too opinionated. It is no different in other mythic histories.

In The Silmarillion, in "The Valaquenta," there is a single sentence, speaking of Varda (Elbereth):

Quote:
Out of the deeps of Ea she came to the aid of Manwe; for Melkor she knew from before the making of the Music and rejected him, and he hated her, and feared her more than all others whom Eru made.
This could be a book in and of itself. A love triangle? between Varda, Manwe and Melkor?

Again, a story out of it's cultural context. But in this case, there is no "real" culture to provide the context. The Silmarillion is clearly written from the viewpoint of the Elves, but who are they?

My question is, does Tolkien's work fulfill the function of a true, cultural mythology for anyone?

I know I find myself biting my tongue keeping from quoting Tolkien in certain situations when with my non-Tolkien-fan friends. The Bible would usually be more appropriate in those situations, but I am less familiar with it than I am with Tolkien. (perhaps my loss, perhaps theirs.)

Despite it's real grandeur, Ea is rather small and limited when compared to the vastness of the various mythologies of the world, even including the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas.

I guess I'm wondering, is Tolkien's work a true mythology for you? (True as opposed to Fact!). Is it a "rock' that informs your life, relationships, creativity? Is it "always there" for you, in a mythic, perhaps subconscience sense? Does it teach you how to be whatever it is you hope to be? or think you are? Is it more for you than just a great work of fiction? If it is, why and how?

For myself, I will say, briefly, that there is no one mythology that I find singularly fulfilling. Like most people, (I think), I take what I can from the stories I hear. I would consider myself a Jack-of-all-Trades and therefore, Master of none. The story of Arda influences me, my choices, my views mostly in that it is the most familiar to me, certainly the most moving for me. Does that make it merely great fiction, or something more? You tell me.
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Old 08-14-2006, 02:01 AM   #2
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M-m-m, you pose interesting questions, but do it more or less vaguely
How do you mean, 'True as opposed to Fact'? What is 'true mythology'?

But since I reckon I follow you I would say there are no 'not true' mythologies at all, all are 'true'. But even if I fail to follow you, nevertheless my answer would be yeah in both cases, that is, Ea is true mythology to me, and it is not opposed (per se) to Fact (still more Fact with capital F), it may be placed opposite it as a mirror reflecting it. All reflections in all mirrors are true in a sense they do reflect the Fact that is, but some may be 'truer' for doing it better, or maybe some may be 'truer' for certain types of persons who are attuned to perceive reflections seen in certain mirrors better than those of other mirrors. In that sense, Ea is true to me.

M-m-m, here I come out no less vague but even more so...
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Old 08-14-2006, 04:11 AM   #3
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I guess I'm wondering, is Tolkien's work a true mythology for you? (True as opposed to Fact!). Is it a "rock' that informs your life, relationships, creativity? Is it "always there" for you, in a mythic, perhaps subconscience sense? Does it teach you how to be whatever it is you hope to be? or think you are? Is it more for you than just a great work of fiction? If it is, why and how?
Yes is my answer. His books mean more to me than anything I have ever read. I re-read them about once a year, and have done so since I was 12 years old. My life is frantically busy, I am married and run my own business and I find little time to call my own. And yes, I feel that Tolkien's work is "there for me" and I refer to it, even subconsciously when I find myself struggling with a problem. I find it hard to express myself about this, but I sense that Radagastly and many others here will know what I mean.

I live in a part of England that is very rural and fits the description of the Shire (minus the hobbit holes), so it is there in my face every time I go out my door (we even live near real barrows). When I walk my dogs, I imagine myself wandering through the Shire, following Bilbo and Frodo and pretending to myself there are elves peeking around trees. Silly I know for a grown woman, but it's harmless I guess. As you said, some people look to the Bible to fortify and comfort, well I look to Tolkien.
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Old 08-15-2006, 10:47 PM   #4
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Tolkien

Quote:
Originally Posted by radagastly
I guess I'm wondering, is Tolkien's work a true mythology for you? (True as opposed to Fact!). Is it a "rock' that informs your life, relationships, creativity? Is it "always there" for you, in a mythic, perhaps subconscience sense? Does it teach you how to be whatever it is you hope to be? or think you are? Is it more for you than just a great work of fiction? If it is, why and how?
Your question is very similiar to the one I posted in my thread on Real and Fake History. My answer to your question is yes, without a doubt. The Lord of the Rings is more than a fictional tale for me. I take it very seriously and soak up as much lessons that can be learned from each of my favorite characters...and even the one's that aren't my favorites. It is "always there" for me. A lot of people don't understand, but it seems like you and others do. A lot of times (this may sound bad...snap into reality Matt!) but I tend to find myself thinking "would Boromir do this?"..."I think Aragorn would do this...", etc. And although I know that I am my own person, the influence of these fictional characters inspire me more so than a lot of real characters that have made a mark in history. So although I know TLotR is a "work of fiction" it stands as more to me. A world I can go to in my mind and learn tons from. Indeed it is a rock that informs many aspects in my life.
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Old 05-22-2011, 09:39 AM   #5
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Definitely yes.

I'm the kind of person that believes in pretty much everything, even if I know for a fact (not Fact) that it's not real. When some people say "suspension of disbelief" when talking about fiction, I have nothing to suspend This is something that used to drive my parents crazy. They said that I live in two worlds at the same time (two! More like a dozen!), and I really have to stop it. I didn't; I just learned how to hide it.

I know many people who view myths and mythologies as just stories. Fairy tales. I'm also fascinated by all kinds of myth(ologies) from a story point of view, but for me they are also true. This creates a cotradiction, because myths of different cultures are contradictory, so you could say that I believe in nothing. *shrugs*

So yes, I believe in Tolkien's mythology. I don't try to find it in our world that we call "real", but I know it's there. Probably more so than most other mythologies. At least for me.
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Old 05-23-2011, 09:15 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by radagastly View Post
I guess I'm wondering, is Tolkien's work a true mythology for you? (True as opposed to Fact!). Is it a "rock' that informs your life, relationships, creativity? Is it "always there" for you, in a mythic, perhaps subconscience sense? Does it teach you how to be whatever it is you hope to be? or think you are? Is it more for you than just a great work of fiction? If it is, why and how?
To answers your questions; both yes and no. Tolkien's works have meant a greater part of the world for me since I was fortunate enough to be acquainted with it. For me it is certainly more than any piece of fiction, that I might read and then store it in more obscure pat of my brain. Tolkien's world and his characters have taught me a lot and have contributed a lot to what I am today. When in despair, it acts as a constant in my life. While reading the Silmarillion or Lotr, I get transferred to a different world where I know that things, be it the worse of worst, would resolve themselves at the end. I believe that good will triumph over evil, though marks of evil will remain. I believe that there remains a peaceful place akin to Valinor where we will travel after the end of our days. I believe in the agelessness of elves, admire the sturdiness of the dwarfs, and crave for the 'freedom' that defines the hobbits. To say that Professor J R R Tolkien has influenced my life, would be, but, an understatement.

All these being said, however, the fact remains that Lotr and all other works, does not define my life or even define me. I has shaped me up; yes, but that's that. According to me, the human mind always seeks and craves for newer pastures. Only a very few would be satisfied with familiar fields, and I envy them this. But, it is not me. I do seek more and I always will. Today Tolkien's works form a large part of my life but tomorrow it might be something else.

The Lotr, Silmarillion etc, will always remain a part of my life but I cannot vouch for the extent of it. The stories certainly helps me in my life but it does not hold all answers for me. It is just a part of it; a very huge part, yes, but just a part.

i don't know if I have managed to explain myself at all. If not, please do not take any offense.
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Old 05-24-2011, 02:51 PM   #7
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I take what I can from the stories I hear
That's basically where I stand on this discussion.

I've never held a particularly strong belief in any "real" mythology, instead turning to whichever set of stories best helps me deal with the situations I'm facing.

In my bookshelf-mythology, then, Tolkien and his works do play a big part. Not so much because he's built them as an elaborate mythology, but because they're well told stories with situations and lessons applicable to the world I live in.

I don't know if I'd class it as a "rock" of my life though. Certainly it's something that's been with me for longer than I can remember and the works which are my favorites are high (very high) on the list of ones I turn to first on my bookshelf, so maybe that's just a matter of terminology. "Rock" suggests some stable landmark to me, something that can be used to guide decisions and find your way, but which is unchanging in its nature. I see Tolkien's works (and the work of others) maybe more like stars, they help me in navigating but with constellations changing based on time/season/location/etc, and some are fairly regular while others wander in-and-out of influencing me.

"True as opposed to Fact", there's a devil of a question. For this though, not so much confusing as it could be. Do I think they're "Fact", with a capital-F, no (ignoring the issue of the Fact of their existence), I will never find the events they contain in a history book, and I don't expect to. "True", with a captial-T, that's a yes. But True in the sense fairy tales are True, not True in the sense that "the Earth is the center of the universe" was once True. Earth as the center of the universe was dependent upon Facts, new Facts new Truth. Without a foot in the realm of Facts, Tolkien's mythology (any mythology), once deemed True, is always True. I have no doubts, however, that the stories are "true" and "fact" in that they are full of useful lessons, believable characters, and reflect a world which holds up to scrutiny as a world and which can be useful for interpreting our own.


This might be related tangentially to the issue of whether it's "true" or "real". But in the sense of "does it exist outside the world it, itself, creates", I recently read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis and the third book (That Hideous Strength) has at least a couple of references to Numenor. They're quick references, but they're worked into the mythology of Arthur and Merlin and treated as a forgotten part of those stories and history. Even if no one accepts Tolkien's mythology as a part of the Arthur mythos, it is at least "real" enough to someone to have been incorporated into a novel work, something that happens to Greek/etc myths all the time.
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:38 PM   #8
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i don't know if I have managed to explain myself at all. If not, please do not take any offense.
You explained yourself beautifully, more than I think I did in my last post. Some of the points you made are also appicable to me,

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All these being said, however, the fact remains that Lotr and all other works, does not define my life or even define me. I has shaped me up; yes, but that's that.
Yes, very true. I do sometimes turn to the legendarium in tough situations, but that could be said about many other books as well. I don't know why Tolkien's works are so much more meaningful and so much closer to me. They just are.

They don't "define" my life, but they guide it. And there is always a bit of everything there.
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:53 PM   #9
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Personally, I don't feel the works influence my outlook, or my daily activities that much. I have used them as a means of escape in times of stress or turmoil before, but I certainly don't see them as any sort of "true mythology" that I look to for guidance.

I am attracted to Tolkien's works because of something innate in my personality. I enjoy archaic language, and I like the way Tolkien writes. It probably doesn't hurt either that I remember The Hobbit and LOTR from very early childhood, so it's something that's just always been there for me.

I am not who I am because I read the books; rather I read the books because of who I am.
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Old 05-24-2011, 04:04 PM   #10
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I am not who I am because I read the books; rather I read the books because of who I am.
Well said!


As I said before, all - any - mythology is a true one for me, and all are not true. If that makes any sense. I never tried to really bring Tolkien and RL together, but I believe in one as much as I do in the other. It's just who I am.
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