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Old 03-03-2005, 05:05 PM   #1
Lush
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Descent into Hell!!! Rarrr!...Well, sort of...

Ok, so, I think that most people on this board would agree with me that the idea of the hero's descent into hell and subsequent re-emergence of it is a structure of the symbolic language of many, many cultures. Think Odysseus. Jesus. Dante.

Now, what made the older tales so compelling was the idea that there was a strong risk, of course, that the hero would not, in fact, be able to return, hence the heroic nature of the quest in general. Of course, the descent also had to have a specific purpose, usually a good one.

And then we have Aragorn and his dealings with the army of the dead, which more or less resembles the classic tale. However, from re-reading this, I understand that the incident in question takes place on the mortal plane. Or, kind of on the mortal plane. As in, they're still in Middle Earth, but in some darker dimension of it. Maybe? Maybe not. Anyone want to explain this further? Now, I'm exteremly curious about the location that Aragorn & Co. have to journey to and the way it relates to the old myths. What does this say about Tolkien's take on the myth?

Furthermore, we have the journey of Frodo and Sam into Mordor. Once again, from what I can understand, Mordor is presented as a kind of hell-on-Middle-Earth. What is Tolkien trying to say in general about hell here? And which one of the myths is it closest to? Now, in my opinion, this is more of a classical interpretation rather than a Christian one. Or a mix perhaps? When we keep Frodo and Sam's sacrifices in mind...?

And what of failure? Frodo appears to have failed at the end, to be "rescued" by Gollum who seems to have fallen in a kind of madness by the end. This is also curious, because from what I understand, the failure of a hero to return from hell is a failure of the spirit which results in madness. Yet it is precisely Gollum's fit (or semi-fit, or however we might want to call it) that allows for the Ring to be destroyed. I'm struggling to understand what this aspect of the story might mean in relation to the myths. Is there any significance there? What do you think?
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Old 03-03-2005, 05:54 PM   #2
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If you go along with the Christian view of descent, it would seem that the characters in myths are taking on something terrible so that others don't have to. The sacrifice of Jesus for the sin of the world, Luthien giving up immortality for Beren in Mandos, Beowulf killing the dragon at the cost of his own life. All of them are examples of a single person going the extra mile or "taking one for the team" so to speak.
But I think Tolkien also wanted to convey the idea that things have to get worse before they get better. (Now this isn't exactly hell, but bear with me). In the countless voyages to reach Valinor, many mariners perished and any shipwreck survivor (Voronwe) would tell you that it's hell enough. The point is that there has to be a challenge that makes success just that much sweeter, or actually worth trying. When Earendil endured the Shadowy Seas and made it to enlist the help of the Valar in the War of the Jewels, he showed that the impossible could be done and gave hope to the people of Middle-Earth. The various "hells" of Tolkien's world are most likely there (outside of their basic part in the plot) to teach a lesson to the people who go through them or the ones who benefit from their efforts.
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Old 03-03-2005, 08:16 PM   #3
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What about the most obvious decent and return, that of Gandalf? Like in Dante he goes down and then works his way up and when he comes back he is transformed.
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Old 03-03-2005, 08:27 PM   #4
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There's one thing missing from the descents into "hell" in LotR, though, and that's the hero's meeting with some now-dead heroic-yet-problematic figure from the past. Odysseus discovers Achilles in Hades (and his mother), Dante goes down there with Virgil and meets up with any number of heroic figures from the past (along with other disreputables, of course). So in addition to the threat of failure there is the promise of meeting with someone who can give useful guidance. A 'fallen' hero.

That doesn't happen in Tolkien's tale, so I'm curious about this absence
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:38 PM   #5
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Not always Fordim, Perhaps 'tis true that in longer tales the hero meets with a "now-dead heroic-yet-problematic figure from the past" but it's not always so in shorter tales.

Orpheus for one descends into hell (Hades for him though) and returns without meeting any who went before...
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When Orpheus' wife, Eurydice, was killed by the bite of a serpent, he went down to the underworld to bring her back. His songs were so beautiful that Hades finally agreed to allow Eurydice to return to the world of the living. However, Orpheus had to meet one condition: he must not look back as he was conducting her to the surface. Just before the pair reached the upper world, Orpheus looked back, and Eurydice slipped back into the netherworld once again. (From Here)
I don't know how well that's applicable to Lord of the Rings...but it's still worth considering...


Another way to look at it could be that Frodo does meet a fallen hero, just one who's not died yet, and that this fallen hero is usefull...just not in terms of guidance. When one considers Gollum as the 'fallen hero' it almost works...he is from before, he's just not 'dead', and he doesn't give useful guidance but without him everything would have been for naught and Frodo would have failed...
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Old 03-03-2005, 10:28 PM   #6
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You could make a push to say that Gandalf received guidance after he went down and up and died. But in this case, he had already been down and had come back, so he didn't meet anyone while he was at 'hell'. And I don't know if he met a dead hero while he was dead. Still, he did go to another world and was given counsel before returning.
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Old 03-04-2005, 03:39 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Makar
What about the most obvious decent and return, that of Gandalf? Like in Dante he goes down and then works his way up and when he comes back he is transformed.
This is a very good point. I often wonder if the symbolism of Moria is intended to be similar to the idea of Dante's levels of Hell. Moria has halls and levels, it has it's own 'satan' in the figure of the Balrog, and demons in the form of the Orcs, and it is clearly a place where untold suffering has happened. I'm sure that as a Catholic and having gone through a classical, grammar school type education, that Tolkien would have been more than aware of Dante. Certainly, even if he was not consciously drawing a link, then the idea of this would stay in the mind as it is all very lurid. I wonder if it says anything in any of the books - alas I have not the time to look this up thoroughly this morning. But Gandalf's fall in Moria is an excellent example of someone entering the underworld, in the classical sense of the underworld.

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Originally Posted by Fordim
There's one thing missing from the descents into "hell" in LotR, though, and that's the hero's meeting with some now-dead heroic-yet-problematic figure from the past. Odysseus discovers Achilles in Hades (and his mother), Dante goes down there with Virgil and meets up with any number of heroic figures from the past (along with other disreputables, of course). So in addition to the threat of failure there is the promise of meeting with someone who can give useful guidance. A 'fallen' hero.

That doesn't happen in Tolkien's tale, so I'm curious about this absence
Good question! My take is that perhaps as Tolkien preferred the Northern myths to the classical ones, he did not necessarily follow the 'rules' associated with classical mythology.

There's another level (sorry) to the idea of descending into hell and re-emerging from it. The idea of descending to hell is vey much a Christian one, but what was there before Christianity? The idea of the Underworld voyage was still very much in existence. One of the theories about burial chambers is that they could have a dual use and members of the clan/tribe would enter these and take mental journeys into the underworld - whether through use of psychotropic substances, meditation or simply force of belief. Newgrange was said to be a dual purpose tomb. But there are also underground tunnels called Fogou, particularly common in Cornwall, which seem to serve little purpose and it is mooted that people would enter these tiny spaces and creep beneath the earth in order to enter the underworld.

This to me links to the Hobbits' experience in the Barrow. Here they very much enter the underworld, they are even dressed in finery as though they are heroes themselves. There is the very real threat of sacrifice, and they meet with a figure from the underworld. I love this whole episode as it is so powerful and symbolic. And Frodo of course becomes the hero of the piece by challenging this underworld figure and returning to the outer world.

So I think there are several descents into hell and many sacrifices before we get to the ultimate descent and sacrifice, that at Mount Doom. And even this is interesting, as it involves two figures, both Frodo and Gollum. Their ends are almost mirror images of each other. Both are destroyed physically and mentally. Yet only one receives his 'heavenly reward'. And this is odd, because it is the one who gives up his physical being, Gollum, who does not (as far as we know) receive a spiritual reward.
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Old 03-04-2005, 06:07 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lindolirian
The point is that there has to be a challenge that makes success just that much sweeter, or actually worth trying.
I remember my Economics teacher saying that "for a test to be genuine, there should always be a possibility that you will not make it." Needless to say, he makes totally brain-wringing exams that bring out the worst in our grades. But sooner or later, we'll realize (as I am about to) that these tests would make college Econ a piece of cake for us. Or so I hope.

That's just the thing that all the characters went through. For a moment in "Hell" they'll learn more than they ever will in ordinary, everyday experiences. Take Aragorn, for instance. If he decided not to go through the Paths of the Dead, he would probably not exhibit such leadership skills as he did in the Battle of the Pelennor. It is definitely easier to command an army of your kinsmen than one of ghosts. And I'm sure he was able to utilize what he has gained from these experiences in his reign.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim
There's one thing missing from the descents into "hell" in LotR, though, and that's the hero's meeting with some now-dead heroic-yet-problematic figure from the past...So in addition to the threat of failure there is the promise of meeting with someone who can give useful guidance. A 'fallen' hero. That doesn't happen in Tolkien's tale, so I'm curious about this absence
Taking my previous example, do we not consider the king of the army as a "fallen hero"? After all, he was (probably) a noble and valiant king once. It was his wrong decision that made him fall. Now, he's an essential character that stopped Aragorn from becoming a "fallen hero" himself. At the same time, he pulled himself and his army out of the state of being fallen; they remain only as heroes as they helped win the war.

Excellent thread, Lush.

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Old 03-04-2005, 09:43 AM   #9
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Thanks for the contributions, guys.

The Gollum thing is what really gets to me in all of this.

Quote:
Yet only one receives his 'heavenly reward'. And this is odd, because it is the one who gives up his physical being, Gollum, who does not (as far as we know) receive a spiritual reward.
Actually I, for some reason, always envisioned that Gollum got his peace at last. Hence the fact that he falls in together with his Precious. At the point of his death he is corrupted beyond repair and it is as if the only way for him to finally end the torture is to die alongside the Ring.

This is why Mordor strikes me as a very interesting idea of Hell (or Hell-on-earth, perhaps, is more appropriate). It's certainly not a place where one can or should "abandon all hope" or anything like that in the Dante vein; and just like in the classical legends, it is still a place where one must achieve a certain task, but the idea behind it all, as it has been mentioned, is one of sacrifice. Which is not what the Greeks seemed to have had in mind at all (Odysseus sacrificing a sheep in Tiresias' honour notwithstanding ).

But what is the ultimate hell in Tolkien's creation? Is it, in fact, Mordor? Or does an ultimate, metaphysical hell even exist?
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Old 03-04-2005, 10:12 AM   #10
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But what is the ultimate hell in Tolkien's creation? Is it, in fact, Mordor? Or does an ultimate, metaphysical hell even exist?
I think it possibly does, certainly for Saruman:

Quote:
To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.
This is quite a horrific image, yet so simple and wholly unbloody. Here is one of the Istari who by rights ought to return to the west after his death, yet he is simply blown away to nothing. It is perfect, poignant and seems utterly final.
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Old 03-04-2005, 03:03 PM   #11
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Lalwendë said:
Quote:
I often wonder if the symbolism of Moria is intended to be similar to the idea of Dante's levels of Hell. Moria has halls and levels, it has it's own 'satan' in the figure of the Balrog, and demons in the form of the Orcs, and it is clearly a place where untold suffering has happened.
I have always thought that this held true.
As well as the symbols mentioned by Lalwendë there are other pointers.
The mere mention of Moria fills all of the fellowship with an unnamed dread. With the exeption of Gimli, of course, and yet even he is described as "...a smouldering fire was in his eyes". What could be more 'hellish' for an Elf, than to spend days and nights in a place where the sun or the stars never shine.
In the myths and legends of many cultures, Hell or the Underworld is reached by crossing water. At the entrance to Moria we have Sirannan, the Gate-stream.
There is also the Watcher in the Water. A twisted, snake-like, many limbed guardian of the entrance to the Underworld, like the many headed Cerberus perhaps?
Another symbol that struck me recently, is the mention of the holly that marks the entrance to the Gate. Holly was the symbol of the people of Hollin, who used the gate, to be sure. However, holly is an important plant in both Pagan and later Christian beliefs. In medieval times holly leaves would be placed around tombs, as a talisman against witchcraft and as a warning that evil spirits lurked.
On the other hand, Frodo and Sam's journey in Mordor always makes me think of a sort of purgatory, an ante-room if you will, to be endured before the actual fiery hell of Mount Doom, and Frodo, Sam and Gollum's eventual release or death.
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Old 03-04-2005, 04:22 PM   #12
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The following is a part of conversation which took place between yours truly and Galorme (sorely missed member, btw) once upon a time, by PM long ago. Courtesy of said Galorme, who made a file of it and sent it back to me:

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Originally Posted by HerenIstarion
Hell does not exist indeed. ... It may sound paradoxical a bit, but hell exists too, at the same time. The argument is the following. God (and as a result, Heaven) is Existence with a capital E, i.e. the source of all existence in general. Any thing opposed to God has the negative characteristics, still more Satan (and therefore hell). Therefore … the evil is not existent in itself but mere lack of Good … let me suggest you to think of God as of a fountain spraying good things from itself. One of the good things it flows off with is existence. The farer you get from the Fountain … more dry is the place, i.e. less ‘existent’. The ‘dry place’ is not created by ‘Fountain’, it is dry because it is far from it (and in this case the free will comes into play as the ‘dry place’ withdrew itself from the fountain and so became dry). So not God created hell, but Satan chose to place himself into hell exercising his free will. Therefore hell may be considered not as existent place created by God, but as a state of mind creature (any creature…) can drive itself into it case it freely chooses to do things against God's will. [so] any place (and any state of mind) apart from one in accordance with God’s will is hell in itself and by definition. [So] beings are not tortured against their free will, but by the chain of their choices place themselves in a position which in itself is a torture. Satan is less of a torturer than a most tortured being of all
Therefore, there need not be ultimate [meta]physical hell in ME.

(We've been through this in C-thread, haven't we? And in Tolkien and the Monsters too? And a number of other places as well? )

In the light of excerpt above, it may be of interest to recall Tolkiens sentences hinting that external factors reflect inner 'state of mind' of ainu class of beings, i.e., when Morgoth is in doubt and fear, he clothes himself in clouds, likewise does Sauron. I.e. - Mordor looks like hell because Sauron's mental and emotional whether follows his will's barometer (for in the case, the barometer leads the wheather, not vice versa), and barometer shows hell

Frodo's 'descent symbolism' is purely Christian. On the other hand (and praise be to Tolkien for it), it is not claiming too much - Frodo, even if a symbol of Christ, is also a symbol of pre-Christian times, and is mere human too. He is not perfect, and he's descent is not perfect - for only One was able to perform it perfectly. His failure is a failure of a Fallen human - though action is required on your own behalf and you should do all you can a little bit more, nothing can be done without Divine help nevertheless (thus uniting Boethian and Manichaean points of view). Gollum is Divine help in the case. But divine help is acquired through one's own actions - Gollum pitied - Gollum there to fall with the Ring.

Fallen hero re: It is as good there are no fallen heroes on the road. It would have been a mistake, hangover of classical age and Hades, where all souls go to be sad and silent (Elysium being later addition). In that kind of story, the 'hell-visitor' is usually alive, and the 'host' already dead. Besides, 'fallen' hero is no longer a hero, is s/he?

Rather hasty, I intend to elaborate later on

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Old 03-04-2005, 04:34 PM   #13
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I dont intirely agree with what your ideas of Hell are. In the Christian religion (which I am part of) which you have mentioned often in this thread, we do not believe that you can at all or at any point in time return to earth after being in Hell. You are also not sent to hell to finish a certain task. May I ask were it is some of you got those ideas? I have never heard them before. I am not saying they are wrong I am just saying I do not agree.
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Old 03-04-2005, 05:02 PM   #14
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I ask were it is some of you got those ideas?
I believe they come from Catholicism. But don't quote me, I'm not an expert on such things as that. No, wait! That's purgatory...... Whoops. Sorry.
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Old 03-04-2005, 05:16 PM   #15
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Wilwarin
Tolkien was also a Christian, a Roman Catholic in fact, but he was also a classicist. He studied the Greek Myths and it is from stories like Orpheus and Euridice that we get the idea of 'going to hell and back' in order to complete a specific task.
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Old 03-04-2005, 05:23 PM   #16
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There is a danger of conflating the Pagan, Christian & 'Middle earthian' ideas of the UnderWorld. In the Mystery Traditions the UnderWorld was a place of Light, the source of Life itself. These Traditions were cthonic & a candidate for initiation entered into the UnderWorld through caves (natural or man-made) to encounter the UnderWorld Powers & be re-born. Hence initiates were known as the 'twice-born'. In the UnderWorld one would encounter Powers which had to be faced & dangers which had to be passed through. If the initiate was successful he or she would emerge transformed by what they had experienced.

Certainly there is an echo of this in the journey of Beren & Luthien into Angband, where they encounter a terrrifying power of darkness & emerge with the Silmaril, source of Holy Light. The UnderWorld was, therefore, not in any way like the Christian concept of Hell - in fact Hell as a place of eternal damnation did not exist in the Mystery Traditions.

But we stray into some very profound symbolic areas - the Womb & the Tomb. One enters the 'womb' of the Earth Mother to be re-born but in order to reach it one passes through the 'tomb' of the cave & is 'interred'.

Tolkien makes use of these ideas but in a very 'Christian' way, to the extent that I think it can only be confusing to try & draw ideas from ancient Traditions into our attempt to understand events in Middle earth.Middle earth has its own rules & they are neither wholy Pagan nor entirely Christian. In orthodox Christianity the UnderWorld is a place of eternal damnation in the Mysteries it is a place of Light & liberation through darkness. In Middle earth it is something else....
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Old 03-04-2005, 06:12 PM   #17
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davem, when you write about the underworld as a place of light, what belief system are you referring to exactly?

Something that always stuck out at me when I read Homer was that when Odysseus encounters Achilles in the underworld, he complains about being dead and says that he would rather be someone lowly, yet still living above ground, rather than a hero in the underworld. And while I'm pretty sure the Greeks shared the idea of death and re-birth you mentioned, for the most part, their version of the underworld struck me as a relatively gloomy place, where people but are shades.

Wilwarin, in the Christian religion (or at least some versions of it, Catholicism being one, Eastern Orthodoxy being the other), the only ones to go to hell and come back are Jesus and Mother Mary, I believe. But the trip to hell had existed in symbolic language long before Christianity came along. I believe Heren provided a great post that comments on the Christian side of Frodo's journey above.

Furthermore, Heren, if hell in Tolkien is not a "place" (in the sense of Hades, for example), what are we to make of Saruman's death (thanks for the great quotation, Lalwendë)? Does he simply then cease to exist?
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Old 03-04-2005, 07:27 PM   #18
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Middle earth has its own rules & they are neither wholy Pagan nor entirely Christian.
Agree entirely.

Quote:
In orthodox Christianity the UnderWorld is a place of eternal damnation in the Mysteries it is a place of Light & liberation through darkness.
I too cannot recall reading anything about an Underworld as a place of light...is this a Pagan belief?
I don't think it is just Christian orthodoxy that has the idea of eternal damnation. Most ancient (pre-Christian) religions have a belief in some sort of divine justice. The Greeks and Romans had Elysium (for the brave and good) and Tartarus (for the wicked) and coincidentally or not, if I remember correctly, one was situated in the far West and the other in the East.
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Old 03-04-2005, 07:51 PM   #19
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I think there is a 'hell' in Tolkien's world and it is the Outer Void, where Melkor was cast and where he serves his sentance. My reading of Saruman's death has always been that, when he is refused re-entry to the West, he is being cast into the void.

The fact that even the great evil of Middle-Earth is merely 'serving time' leads me to believe that Eru wouldn't (or possibly couldn't) cause any of his creations to ever cease to exist entirely. We see some echoes of this in Gandalf's actions and words to Gollum as well. (Having a part to play before the end, kind of thing)

Having said this, I entirely agree with Heren's (or Galorme's) thoughts on hell as a state of mind. Certainly people are capable of 'putting themselves through hell' and I tend to think that the only way that one can be incapable of being saved is if one doesn't want to be. And furthermore...
No, no. Must... not...wax...metaphysical... Grrr!

But getting back to Middle Earth. Tolkien seems to prefer purgatory to eternal hell, at least for the purpose of his faery story. This is born out with Melkor and the Void, (does it say anything that even the Big Bad is only in purgatory?) and also some of the lesser 'hells on earth' that have been spoken about so eloquently above.
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Old 03-05-2005, 01:01 AM   #20
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The fact that even the great evil of Middle-Earth is merely 'serving time' leads me to believe that Eru wouldn't (or possibly couldn't) cause any of his creations to ever cease to exist entirely.
But I see a big contradiction here: the Void is supposedly a place where nothing exists, hence the term. But Morgoth was cast into the Void. One of two things must happen then - either the Void ceases to become a void (for it has been filled), or Morgoth ceases to exist (keeping the Void as it is...a void).

I think that there is no hell in Middle Earth, so to speak. Hell there is possibly a state of mind, not a place. One such character who has been through her own hell and back is Eowyn. The moment she succumbed to despair, she was entrapped in her own "hell." She thought that there was no hope left for herself nor for Middle Earth, so she sought death, a final release from all her sufferings. However, in the end, a physically fallen hero by the name of Faramir helped her escape from her "hell." Thus she was given a renewed life, as Dante was after going through Inferno.
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Old 03-05-2005, 03:28 AM   #21
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davem, when you write about the underworld as a place of light, what belief system are you referring to exactly?
The UnderWorld/Faery Tradition is an ancient one which has always run 'beneath' both Pagan & Christian orthodoxy. Here's a link to an article by a modern seer, RJ Stewart. His books, The UnderWorld Initiation, Earthlight & Power Within The Land, are worth checking out:
http://www.dreampower.com/underworld.html

Anyway, very off topic...
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Old 03-05-2005, 03:41 AM   #22
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Tolkien makes use of these ideas but in a very 'Christian' way, to the extent that I think it can only be confusing to try & draw ideas from ancient Traditions into our attempt to understand events in Middle earth.Middle earth has its own rules & they are neither wholy Pagan nor entirely Christian. In orthodox Christianity the UnderWorld is a place of eternal damnation in the Mysteries it is a place of Light & liberation through darkness. In Middle earth it is something else....
Indeed, Arda has its own 'rules' and cannot be equated with the rules of either Christian or Pagan (or any other) traditions as it is its own place, a creation apart. But like with the idea of the Trickster appearing in Tolkien's work, these things do not appear in their entirety, copied wholesale across, and thus are not the same at all. But like with the Trickster, we can find some elements of these ideas of Hell or the Underworld.

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In the UnderWorld one would encounter Powers which had to be faced & dangers which had to be passed through. If the initiate was successful he or she would emerge transformed by what they had experienced.
I think Tolkien does make use of this idea. When Gandalf falls in Moria he very much passes through the underworld and meets one who lives there, the Balrog. He battles with said being and passes through the danger; he is successful in his initiation. Thus he meets (we think) Eru and is indeed reborn. Gandalf even returns as the White, he is purified by his encounter and journey. This also has links to the Christian idea of resurrection. I don't think it would be wrong to look at what happens to Gandalf in view of both traditions, as it can help us to try and see what the true nature of this rebirth was, and in so doing, help us to understand the nature of Eru.

In some respects, the experiences of Frodo and Sam in Shelob's Lair reflect this on a more earthly level. In particular Sam, who comes through quite literally changed and reborn as a Ringbearer and hero.

The main difference in both these episodes is that in the old traditions, the Underworld is not a place to be feared, it is to be treated with respect, yes, but it is somewhere that the prospective intiate must not fear to go. But even then, thinking about Gandalf in Moria, does he fear to go there? He fears Moria, but he does not fear to confront and challenge the being which dwells therein.
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Old 03-05-2005, 07:58 AM   #23
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brief comment

Saruman's fate re:

Quote:
For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.
The quote above concerns Sauron (in case the Ring is destroyed), but I can't see reasons why should it not apply to Saruman as well. Outward signs are similar after all:

Quote:
Saruman

To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.
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Sauron

And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.
Void re: it may be hell in the sense of not existence of hell - it is opposite of Being in that respect. But in not the hell in the sense of a place. In fact, Void is not a place at all, it's nothing

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Old 03-05-2005, 04:22 PM   #24
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How about the abyss that Gandalf referred to when he rebuked the Lord of the Nazgul at the Gate of Minas Tirith? He told the Ringwraith that it was a place that awaits him and his master. This makes it seem like Gandalf, being a Maia and most likely in the know of the sort of things, believes in a real abyss of judgement. Or was he referring to the Void and is it really a physical place?
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Old 03-05-2005, 06:37 PM   #25
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How about the abyss that Gandalf referred to when he rebuked the Lord of the Nazgul at the Gate of Minas Tirith?
I don't have my books with me right now Lindolirian so I can't go review that section to see how relevent this might be but the abyss could conceivably be based on the trench of Tartarus in Greek myth.

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Tartarus is the lowest region of the world, as far below earth as earth is from heaven...Tartarus is described as a dank, gloomy pit, surrounded by a wall of bronze, and beyond that a three-fold layer of night....While Hades is the main realm of the dead in Greek mythology, Tartarus also contains a number of characters. In early stories, it is primarily the prison for defeated gods...in later myths Tartarus becomes a place of punishment for sinners. It resembles Hell and is the opposite of Elysium, the afterlife for the blessed. From Here
Like I said, with out my books to refresh my memory of that part this may be wildly off...but it's the first thing I thought of so with luck it's relevant.
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Old 04-10-2005, 03:00 AM   #26
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I love it how this thread just died like a 90-year old grandma....Anyway...

I guess I originally started this in order to make some sense of Tolkien's ideas concerning hell. People had brought up the Void, and from my reading of the books, I always imagined to be a sort of physical place. Saruman's death may make it seem as though he was simply destroyed, but I don't think that really jives with the rest of the books. Rather it would seem to me that in painting Saruman's death the way he did, Tolkien was explaining to us how miserable it is to be separated from the West, where he originally belonged.

Re-reading over this thread now, I am beginning to think that hell in Middle Earth is first and foremost separation from the divine.
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Old 04-10-2005, 08:56 AM   #27
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...hell in Middle Earth is first and foremost separation from the divine.
Isn't that first and foremost what hell is in Christian teaching as well?
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Old 05-02-2005, 09:24 PM   #28
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Yep. But some Christian scholars and thinkers are more specific about it than others. Some concentrate more on the fire and brimstone; while others, such as Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov are specific in talking about the suffering that results from the absence. Interestingly enough, the suffering is also very much self-inflicted...
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Old 05-03-2005, 08:30 AM   #29
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This thread did not live out its time, it should go on and on...Great discussion, everyone.

About the Void thing: this makes me think of a story by Stefan Zweig called 'Chess" where a guy was tortured by being isolated in a sparsely furnished room; and even though well fed and leading a comfortable life - the inactivity and isolation was driving him to madness. So, I imagine the Void being a place where your actions have no consequences, where screams are unanswered, where you are completely alone and forgotten by the rest of the world. One can even pity Morgoth if you consider this closely. Surely this is hellish enough.

I like Lhuna's idea of hell as a state of mind and the Eowyn example is perfect. This also ties in with Lush's idea of "suffering that results from the absence": absence of h(H?)ope. Sam also has his share of hell in Shelob's lair. There is a line there that has always evoked the height of suffering to me: "And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his hood over his head, and night came into his heart and he knew no more." A descent into hell, not the body's but the soul's.

Both Sam and Eowyn are saved though. Aragorn and company emerges from the Paths of the Dead unscathed, though perhaps not unchanged. Frodo and Beren pay their tribute to the underworld, but finally they too are granted peace. Which makes me think there is no permanent hell in Middle Earth. At least not in the generally accepted sense of the word, found in religion and mythology.
Middle Earth is a far more benevolent place, it seems.

Ok let's take Orpheus for instance. He was favoured by men and gods, an exceptional person. He attempts the impossible and ventures into the underworld to rescue his beloved. He sings to the creatures and the gods there (sound familiar?) and he is apparently being granted his wish. But - there's a catch: don't look back at Eurydike. Apparently easy to do, but this is exactly when Fate plays a nasty card and he does exactly the forbidden thing, even though he knows the consequences will be dire. The stories are filled with such examples, when the hero/heroine does exactly what they are expressly forbidden to do, and hell ensues as a direct result of their actions. It doesn't matter that their intentions are good, they are not judged by their good character, but by that one mistake that they happened to make. In Middle Earth, it's not like this. Or is it?
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Old 05-03-2005, 01:04 PM   #30
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Don't see a 'Hell' in Middle Earth.

Minas Morgul, Dol Guldur and Mordor are terrible places, as was the later days of Saruman-run Orthanc, but these places are accessible to anyone stupid or brave enough to walk in. Mere mortals have seen at least three of the four. And I don't see the 'underground' associated with the same.

Moria is in the physical world too. Surely the bottom of the Black Pit was a semi-mythical place, but the Dwarves built a stair almost to the same, and so I would say that this rules out Moria being Hell - too easy to access. The darkness and horror associated with Moria is due to new tenants (orcs and the Balrog). Assumedly, if the Balrog and company set up in the Shire then it would have a black name too. Moria had been a nice place once, and even Elves may have liked to go inside now and again.

Utumno would be a better candidate, as it was never meant to be an amusement park but more like a fortress/prison. Also it was inhabited by the less than nice. Free folk were sent there (when captured by Melkor's ilk, but not by Eru's judgment) and tortured - not, however, because of their misdeeds/sins but more for the pleasure and gain of Melkor et al. The torture was mental - seeing one's kin beleaguered and killed - and physical. Don't think that there was much self-torture as alluded to earlier in the thread.

Melkor was not tortured there (or at least any more there than anywhere else), and in fact it was his home base. Note that Satan is punished in Hell. Anyway, in the end Utumno is destroyed, and so that would remove any 'eternity' associated with the place.

Beren and Luthien took the place down momentarily and even survived to tell about it. But where their tale (to me) differs from others is that the two lovers fulfill the quest together just to remain honorable. It's not like Beren had to win a Silmaril in order to win Luthien's love. They loved each other enough to go on the quest together obviously figuring that (1) if successful, they'd be able to be legally married or (2) if not, at least they'd be able to spend some quality time together.

The Void to me is 'nothingness.' There is a form of existence, but not like we would know or comprehend it. To build from the previous analogy, assume that you could dehydrate people (don't try this at home!) and rehydrate them as desired. Poof! Sans water all one would have is dust. The person therein would still remain, as with a little water he/she would spring right back up and partake in life, but as dust would not be able to think, experience, count time...anything, just be.

To me when Melkor and his followers are cast into the Void they are dehydrated and made to sit out the game until Dagor Dagorath.

And in regards to holes in the ground, I think that one of the big reasons that mystery is associated with the same is (1) the earth (caves, holes) is accessible and (2) we've always had some fun when explaining things that go bump in the dark. Very high mountains, the 'edge' of the ocean, the depths of the earth etc are all places where mysterious things can take place. By climbing foothills, getting our toes wet or spelunking we can extrapolate as to what the end of the journey would be like. Surely we haven't gone there ourselves, but we know someone who knows someone...

It's a bit more of a trick to convince others that you or someone you know has journeyed into the air.

And I assume that it was found to be more efficient to bury the dead (for many cultures) than to hide them any other way from scavenging. The dead go into the ground, one can via cave go into the ground and reemerge...2+2 = 22.
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Old 05-03-2005, 02:05 PM   #31
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The Eye Hell-Coming Soon To A Pit Near You

Hell isn't really as inaccessible as all that in legend. It's getting out that is tricky, but the descent is child's play, through one of the traditional entrances (cf Avernus, The Birdless Place, in the Aeneid.) Virgil puts it best:

"The descent to Avernus is easy;
the gate of Pluto stands open night and day;
but to retrace one's steps and return to the upper air,
that is the toil, that is the difficulty."

(hic labor opus est.)

It seems to me that Tolkien's Hell visions are not at all unlike this. To pick a few examples, Beren and Luthien waltz cunningly, and relatively easily, into the depths of Angband. (Remniscent of Dionysus, who tricked his way into Hades, and the Sibyl, who calmed Cerberus just as Luthien struck down Carcharoth.) But when Angrist snaps and they're fleeing, all such cleverness and subterfuge is scattered to the winds, and they run automatically, only wishing to "see the light again." But for the Eagles, their escape would have been a failure. Being heroes, they get out, but by a hairsbreadth.

The light subject is raised again by the Great Goblin in the Hobbit. Thorin and co. have stumbled almost accidentally into "hell". The Great Goblin orders:

"Never let them see the light again!"

Again, only the divine power of Gandalf enables their escape, in a scene evocative of Christ's Harrowing of Hell.

In Moria, the Dwarves go in willingly, arrogantly, confidently. Their last entry in the Book of Mazarbul is:

"They are coming. We cannot get out."

And in the Paths of the Dead, the Grey Company find the skeleton of, if I recall rightly, Baldor, son of Brego-scratching in vain at the walls of the mountain. Trying and failing to escape, having wandered in so blithely.

Oh, of course the theology is a bit patchy. But the imagery, the poetic and mythic conventions, are all there. Literary hells abound in Middle-earth.
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Old 05-04-2005, 12:31 AM   #32
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Re-reading over this thread now, I am beginning to think that hell in Middle Earth is first and foremost separation from the divine.
I was just thinking...hell is supposedly a place of eternal suffering (caused by a separation from the divine, yes). Is this hell in ME eternal as well?
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Old 05-04-2005, 02:41 AM   #33
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Inside the boundaries of 'dry place far from the Fountain' theory

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Is this hell in ME eternal as well
In two different ways, yes.

In time: Self-withdrawal from Eru, if unrepented of, seen in retrospective, is eternal. So, unless he repents, Sauron is always damned. If he repents, than the time previous to repentance may be seen as the ascend to the culmination point of the repentance and bliss, and therefore also eternal - once blessed, he would have been always blessed.

Outside time (Void): self-explanatory, I reckon - the 'place' is outside time, it is eternal.

The revert of the concept of Christ's descent into Hell - by this Act, He releases pre-Christian prophets - i.e. the Act goes both ways in time. Another point of view for the same Act - it is eternally performed, for God is not bound by time, and Christ is descending into hell to release every moment of the past-present-future consequence, which is consequence at all from human point of view only.

See this
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Old 05-04-2005, 09:45 AM   #34
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The revert of the concept of Christ's descent into Hell - by this Act, He releases pre-Christian prophets - i.e. the Act goes both ways in time. Another point of view for the same Act - it is eternally performed, for God is not bound by time, and Christ is descending into hell to release every moment of the past-present-future consequence, which is consequence at all from human point of view only.
Not to question anyone's theology or understanding of the same (and not to get too far afield), and obviously I'm no theologian, but in regards to the theme of this thread, did Jesus actually descend physically/spiritually into Hell as we seem to be defining it?

I can understand how by his sacrifice he freed those saints in Abraham's bosom/Hades/Hell, but not sure that he went there like when we speak of Frodo, Gandalf, Orpheus, etc.

I would cite Luke 23:43. And found this of interest but not definitive.
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Old 05-04-2005, 11:23 AM   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
Not to question anyone's theology or understanding of the same (and not to get too far afield), and obviously I'm no theologian, but in regards to the theme of this thread, did Jesus actually descend physically/spiritually into Hell as we seem to be defining it?
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I would cite Luke 23:43. And found this of interest but not definitive.
'And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."'- Luke 23:43, RSV

Just put the actual verse there for those who are too lazy (as I usually am) to go and look things up.

With regards to Jesus' physical descent into Hell, I'm not so sure that he did, at least as with regards to this question.

As I understand it, in the original Greek of the New Testament, Hades is used to represent the Hebrew "sheol", which simply means "place of the dead", and is not associated with either good or evil- not heaven or hell, but simply the place of the dead. In much the same way, Hades for the Greeks was the "place of the dead", and not hell.

So I don't know/remember if hell is used as a translation for lack of a word corresponding to "place of the dead", or if it originally meant that, as well as or instead of "place of eternal punishment".

As I understand, the original meaning of the passage is more that Jesus "having died, went to the place of the dead (sheol, Hades, hell), and by virtue of His death, the Gates of Heaven were opened and those in sheol were granted entrance into Heaven."

In this event, then Jesus did NOT descent into hell as we are defining it: a place of eternal punishment, to which Satan and all those who are evil are consigned. Although I might also add that Limbo, a place of nothingness which more-or-less compares with sheol/Hades as the neutral place of the dead, used to be an not-so-defined part of Christian theology as the seventh (and outermost) circle of Hell.
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Old 05-04-2005, 09:44 PM   #36
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Well, first of all, you have to remember the fact that the idea of "hell" as a place where only bad people go evolved over time. As did the trips. When Odysseus went to Hades, it meant one thing. When Jesus went to get Abraham, it meant something different. But I would argue that this is all part of a greater pattern.

But then there is the Virgin Mary. She definitely took a stroll through Hell according to Orthodox theology. I think. Maybe. I was always a bad Orthodox anyway. Will look it up.
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Old 05-06-2005, 02:13 AM   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lush
But then there is the Virgin Mary. She definitely took a stroll through Hell according to Orthodox theology. I think. Maybe. I was always a bad Orthodox anyway. Will look it up.
Yep, she was given a 'tour' not unlike Dante's, and she was very moved by the suffering, afterwards praying to God to put an end to their misery.
But this is Orthodox faith where there is no Purgatory, only two extremes: Heaven or Hell. And of course God can't forgive people just like that.

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In time: Self-withdrawal from Eru, if unrepented of, seen in retrospective, is eternal. So, unless he repents, Sauron is always damned. If he repents, than the time previous to repentance may be seen as the ascend to the culmination point of the repentance and bliss, and therefore also eternal - once blessed, he would have been always blessed.
I know this is hypothetical and none of you think Sauron would ever repent. I'd take it one step further and say 'could not repent'. For some, hell is eternal because their choice of returning to good after a long period of evil would unbalance everything. It has become their fate to be evil. And also think of a place where there is no 'incarnate evil' to fight, like the 4th Age Middle Earth. In the unfinished sequel to LOTR, "A new shadow", Tolkien writes that people will create evil within themselves, even in times of prosperous peace. A sad pessimistic idea, that has no place in a fairytale; no wonder it was discarded.
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Old 07-06-2005, 10:51 PM   #38
Gurthang
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I agree. It's sort of depressing to think that people will create evil if there is nothing evil to go against. But I'd also like to think that Sauron could have repented. Somewhere in the Silmarillion it says that the first time he was captured he said he would repent, but then became so afraid of being punished that he fled and returned to evil.
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Old 07-07-2005, 12:00 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by Formendacil
As I understand it, in the original Greek of the New Testament, Hades is used to represent the Hebrew "sheol", which simply means "place of the dead", and is not associated with either good or evil- not heaven or hell, but simply the place of the dead. In much the same way, Hades for the Greeks was the "place of the dead", and not hell.

So I don't know/remember if hell is used as a translation for lack of a word corresponding to "place of the dead", or if it originally meant that, as well as or instead of "place of eternal punishment".
To me it would seem that the "place of the dead" is obviously the Halls of Mandos. Sure it's not a nice place to be, but it isn't Hell, however, where sinners are punished. All elves go there, regardless of actions in life.

There might be more to this, so I'll be looking through HoME for more. I think there's something about being reborn and all that from Mandos in Morgoth's Ring or some other book.

P.S. I'm surprised that I haven't heard Mandos come up at all yet in this conversation.
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Old 07-07-2005, 01:52 PM   #40
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Some notes on the Orthodox Christian view of Hell and Hades:

First off, like has been already said, Christ didn't descend into Hell in the sense that we're using it here (the place of punishment for the Evil One, his angels, and unrepentant sinners), even though the Liturgy in English tends to use that term. He descended into Sheol/Hades, a place of waiting, where all the dead, righteous and unrighteous, waited for Him. While there, He raised all the righteous ones with Him (they ascended to Paradise after the Resurrection) and bound the Devil until the time when he would be released again (like is written in the Apocalypse), as well as removing the curse of eternal death from the world (like it says in the Paschal Hymn :"Christ is risen from the Dead, trampling down Death by death and upon those in the Tombs bestowing life!").

Also, the Theotokos didn't ever go into hell. There are pious traditions and tales (along the lines of the Inferno) saying that she did, but they're just that: pious traditions and tales, not dogma or doctrine.

Another thing: the Eastern Christian idea of Hell is rather different from the Western Christian conception of the same. While the West tends to view Hell as a seperation from God, the East does not. After all, the Scriptures do say (and I'm paraphrasing from the Psalms here) that "if I ascend to Heaven, Thou art there; if I descend into Hell, Thou art there." We say that God is "everywhere and fillest all things;" how can you run from omnipresence? The Orthodox view of Hell is rather startling to those who are accustomed to the Western view: Heaven and Hell are the same thing. It's the perception of that Reality that's different for each.

We believe that mankind's ultimate end is to stand in the presence of God and to be illumined by the Divine Light. Now, imagine if you will that you have spent your life in fervent service to Him, striving every day to come closer to Him and to be conformed more and more to His image, and that you love Him with all of your being. Such an experience would be pure bliss, would it not? Now, imagine that you've spent your life running from Him, and hating Him with every fibre of your being. Wouldn't be pure torment to be loved perfectly by One Who knows you perfectly for all of eternity?

Here's an analogy for you: there are a pair of twins, raised since infancy in a darkened mansion (nearly pitch-black), both wearing sunglasses. One, upon hearing of something called 'the sun', decides to learn about it and accustom himself to the light. He spends his time looking at various sources of light (lightbulbs, fires, etc.), reading about the sun, and occaisionally looking at it in a darkened mirror. As his eyes get accustomed to the light, he's able to stand greater and greater amounts of it for longer times. Now, the other twin, after hearing about the sun, carries on about his typical day-to-day business, never bothering to find out more about it or accustom his eyes to light. Eventually, there comes a day when both of them are taken out of the house and into the full sunlight, and made to look upon the sun in all his noonday brilliance. For the one who has accustomed himself to the light, he'll be able to behold the sun and observe all its brilliant mysteries. For the one who hasn't accustomed himself to the light, the sun will sear him and the experience will be pure torment.

Now, so far as Arda goes, it doesn't seem like there's any hell. The closest that it seems to come is the Halls of Mandos, and even those correspond most closely to Hades or Limbo rather than Hell. Perhaps the Professor had heard of the Orthodox view of Hell as the Presence of God. Maybe he hadn't. Who knows? Regardless, Arda seems to be missing anything that I would consider "Hell". Of course, there's only so far that Arda and Tellus can be compared, since they are distinct creations and the ties that bind them are tenuous at times.

I'll elaborate more later and answer any questions that arise from this. I've got to leave work now, though.

-LR
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