Author of TheSilmarillion
, and many peripheral works.
including Letters from Father Christmas (ISBN 061800937X
) which is on my hint list this year!
Essentially the only modern fantasy author with a real education in philology, mythology, GermanicLanguage
, etc. lack of a sound foundation in these areas leads to what TerryPratchett calls the
I'faith he waxes right wrathful school of fantasy writing
AFAIK, he basically invented the genre "modern fantasy", complete with its most typical property: the complete lack of relativism.
That's an interesting proposition. I'm a few tens of thousands of words into writing a novel that takes the SF/Fantasy form
, but what its about
is relativism and the damage that the (mis) application of that idea, and the associated LeftWing
programme has done to British society. Or, it will be if I can do it right. I wonder if what you say is true, and if it might have had some influence on my choice of form. -- KeithBraithwaite
All this yapping about "relativism" and "allegory" in the Tolkien critique literature comes from the terrible European fad at the beginning of the 1900s among writers such as CS Lewis to pack their fantasy as much as they could with thinly-veiled, dripping, wallowing, sugar-coated, Eurocentric, pro-Christian, political propaganda. Tolkien is orthogonal.
- (I'd appreciate a page on WhatIsRelativism or RelativismForDummies aimed at the philosophical pleb, like me - thanks)
Let me try to give an example: In the LotR, Sauron has armies of creatures called orcs. Apparently, these orcs always quarrel among themselves, they have rusty weapons, they eat spoiled food, they have bad clothes. In contrast, the "good guys" have far better equipment and apparently a much smaller dead toll, which doesn't come as a surprise given the bad overall equipment and organization of the orcs. If I
were an orc, I would defect to the enemy; if I were Sauron, I would make sure my troops weren't that enormously underequipped compared to the enemy. It seems to me that Tolkien never considered the situation from the viewpoint of the "bad guys". Everything we learn about the orcs is so that the reader will consider them repugnant, but it goes so far that a less repugnant orc would actually be a better soldier.
Right. Thanks for the clarification, that's not quite what I was thinking.
What you say is a good observation of the genre. In fact, it isn't clear just why Sauron is
bad in the first place, beyond being not Gandalf.
One of the things that I always appreciated about LOTR is that Tolkien DID spend time showing things from the "bad guys" perspective. The thing is, these guys really ARE scum. Most of the evil guys are barely civilized. Orcs have bad equipment because they don't care enough about anything to be good craftsmen, not because Sauron wants them poorly equipped. Yes, Orcs and many of the others would be better adversaries if they were more like the good guys. But that's the point of his story, that Good will triumph because it has something that Evil can't match, no matter Evil's apparent might. This is typified by his treatment of hobbits - not powerful seeming, but just TRY and mess with them. Orcs were created by Evil as knock-offs of elves, and they are inferior to elves in every way.
Tolkien even has an in depth discussion of the theological status of orcs in his published Letters. A priest friend of his objected along similar lines as above with the argument thrown in that orcs couldn't be irredeemably evil. Tolkien replied with a very detailed defense of his position. Note also that orcs are the cannon fodder of Morgoth and Sauron for their great wars, and to patrol mountain ranges. Some of their other servants/creations like the Balrogs, the Uruk-hai and Olog-hai, the Nazgul, the subjugated "Easterlings" tribes, or his "Mouth of Sauron" are disciplined and equivalent to the good guys best.
As for why Sauron is the bad guy... There is a whole history Tolkien developed, much of which is told in TheSilmarillion
. Sauron is mostly following in the footsteps of Morgoth, the original bad guy who attempted to destroy paradise and take its greatest treasures for his own. You could argue that Morgoth has as valid a position as the "good guys", but what it comes down to is that he opposed the order established by the creator of that world. You can't get much worse than going against god! Unless your god happens to be a bigoted violent bully. Anyway, (and I haven't read TheSilmarillion) wouldn't what you describe put Morgoth on a similar moral footing as Prometheus, or Lucifer, or Loki? Figures of ambiguous moral stature at worst.
The Ainulindale story ["music of the holy ones"] in TheSilmarillion
represents Eru ["the one"], the parent deity, dividing his own mind into Ainu ["holy ones"], each bearing a subset of Eru's set of all possible traits. But part of the nature of consciousness is that some of these traits, divested of the whole, will now be at odds with others. Humanoids have the power to do evil because all consciousness taken as one must perforce contain conflict.
Eru created two simultaneous arenas for the Ainu to express themselves in. They perceived the music as first because Eru did not tell them that their music was but a model for Ea, the physical universe. Creating the music created Ea and the format for its history.
Eru created Melkor ["arise in might"] essentially in his first batch; Melkor received essentially the greatest part of Eru's whole that could fit together in one being.
Melkor's pride and impatience with his own creativity (kind of a cosmic ADHD) caused him (and his camp among the Ainu) to add themes to the music that didn't belong here in the composition. But because the other Ainu did not yield he then became angry and contested with them. This mapped into Ea as the situation where Melkor and his followers pridefully refused to harmonize his creativity with that of the other Valar ["powers"].
The elf prince Feanor later named Melkor "Morgoth", the "black enemy host".
That's interesting. In "The Witches Of Eastwick", John Updike seems to be exploring a similar idea. Darryl VanHorne is frustrated time and again in his attempts to
create. My reading was that, in part, Darryl (Lucifer) is interested in women because women can create new life, and in those three women in particular because each of them is highly creative in some other way too.
I'm not sure I agree with that. It seems more to me that the original sin of Melkor was being out of tune...
In one of his letters, Tolkien says enough about this that you can sort of tell what Melkor was doing wrong. Melkor was trying to make the tune better by adding his own theme to it - trying to improve on what he could not understand, and thereby breaking it. This is a fairly familiar source of evil, and Tolkien thought it had a fairly central role. Of course all this just made Melkor bitter, which is why he spends so much time trying to break the superior works around him. -- JoshuaGrosse
Sounds like Wiki.
The author whom I love to read but consider a total hack is David Eddings. He's written several epic stories, patterned largely on Tolkien's formula. Then he has the nerve to claim credit for Tolkien's formula! At least he's amusing. Tolkien on the other hand wrote so finely I am still mystified whenever I pull down LOTR for a re-read.
The point of his story: Good Acts Benefit the Doer. Evil Acts Harm the Doer. Both in ways not intended.
I suggest an extract of the discussion on this page onto one like WorksOfTolkien
might be in order. Whatever, I like CsLewis
' comment that his friendship with Tolkien was surprising for two reasons: as a Protestant growing up in Northern Ireland he had been warned "never trust a Catholic" and in the English department at Magdalen College, Oxford he had been warned "never trust a philologist". To become such a close friend and admirer of a Catholic philologist was therefore quite against the run of play.
Yeah. Gotta watch out for those philologists. I wanna learn Cuneiform B. But they've prob'ly got a bogus prerequisite on it, like Cuneiform A.
AN Wilson (who joins Tolkien, Lewis and GkChesterton
in that group of EnglishAuthors?
who deserve a better WikiName
(What group? --ChristofferHammarstrom Not TheInklings, GkChesterton and AN Wilson were not Inklings.
) ) states in his biography of Lewis that it is very unlikely that Tolkien would ever have completed Lord of the Rings if it hadn't been for CS Lewis's belief in the work's genius and his relentless encouragement to Tolkien not to give up on it. "[This subworld you have created] has the inner self-consistency of reality"
is a phrase that I wish could be applied more often to software systems I've been involved in. -- RichardDrake
- Quite so - I'd like to see that in my work too. In fact, I'd settle for having my reality occasionally exhibit some inner self-consistency... -- CameronSmith
Just to mention it: http://www.thetolkienwiki.org
(2000+ pages of Tolkien knowledge, no Tolkien expert should miss that!)