. Alas, not me: February 2016

18 February 2016

An Observation on The Ring Verse (FR 1.ii.50)

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie
One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One of the facts of Arda is that Men dwell in this world only a short time, and after death go where none but Ilúvatar can say. It is also true that a 'mortal ... who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness' (2.ii.47).  Thus the power that Men gain from their rings is an alienation of their very nature, unlike the power of the other rings. The rings of Men keep them in Arda, where they do not belong. The Ring Verse acknowledges this difference in its descriptions. Men are defined here by the doom of their nature; Elves, Dwarves, and Sauron by their place within Arda. 

17 February 2016

Boromir, Fear, and the Pity of Frodo (FR 2.x.396-402)

In studying the long lead-up to the introduction of Gollum as an active character in The Taming of Sméagol, I have come more and more to consider the following question: given that the portrayal of Gollum in the first three books of The Lord of the Rings is negative, dark, and monstrous, why does Frodo pity him? The narrator (Frodo) has taught the reader to regard Gollum with fear and loathing, and thus Frodo's pity, when it comes, may seem right in a high moral sense, but terribly wrong in visceral, practical terms.  Let us first examine the moment itself:
Things would have gone ill with Sam, if he had been alone. But Frodo sprang up, and drew Sting from its sheath. With his left hand he drew back Gollum's head by his thin lank hair, stretching his long neck, and forcing his pale venomous eyes to stare up at the sky. 
'Let go! Gollum,' he said. 'This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you'll feel it this time! I'll cut your throat.'  
Gollum collapsed and went as loose as wet string. Sam got up, fingering his shoulder. His eyes smouldered with anger, but he could not avenge himself: his miserable enemy lay grovelling on the stones whimpering.  
'Don't hurt us! Don't let them hurt us, precious! They won't hurt us will they, nice little hobbitses? We didn't mean no harm, but they jumps on us like cats on poor mices, they did, precious. And we're so lonely, gollum. We'll be nice to them, very nice, if they'll be nice to us, won't we, yes, yess.'  
'Well, what's to be done with it?' said Sam. 'Tie it up, so as it can't come sneaking after us no more, I say.'  
'But that would kill us, kill us,' whimpered Gollum. 'Cruel little hobbitses. Tie us up in the cold hard lands and leave us, gollum, gollum.' Sobs welled up in his gobbling throat. 
'No,' said Frodo. 'If we kill him, we must kill him outright. But we can't do that, not as things are. Poor wretch! He has done us no harm.'  
'Oh hasn't he!' said Sam rubbing his shoulder. 'Anyway he meant to, and he means to, I'll warrant. Throttle us in our sleep, that's his plan.'  
'I daresay,' said Frodo. 'But what he means to do is another matter.' He paused for a while in thought. Gollum lay still, but stopped whimpering. Sam stood glowering over him.  
It seemed to Frodo then that he heard, quite plainly but far off, voices out of the past: 
What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!  
Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.  
I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.  
Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.  
'Very well,' he answered aloud, lowering his sword. 'But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.'  
Sam stared at his master, who seemed to be speaking to some one who was not there. Gollum lifted his head.  
'Yess, wretched we are, precious,' he whined. 'Misery misery! Hobbits won't kill us, nice hobbits.' 
'No, we won't,' said Frodo. 'But we won't let you go, either. You're full of wickedness and mischief, Gollum. You will have to come with us, that's all, while we keep an eye on you. But you must help us, if you can. One good turn deserves another.' 
'Yess, yes indeed,' said Gollum sitting up. 'Nice hobbits! We will come with them. Find them safe paths in the dark, yes we will. And where are they going in these cold hard lands, we wonders, yes we wonders?' He looked up at them, and a faint light of cunning and eagerness flickered for a second in his pale blinking eyes.  
Sam scowled at him, and sucked his teeth; but he seemed to sense that there was something odd about his master's mood and that the matter was beyond argument. All the same he was amazed at Frodo's reply. 
(TT 4.i.614-15, emphases original)
It is essential to point out here, and to bear in mind as we go on, that Frodo in the book is not taken in by Gollum, as the version of Frodo in Peter Jackson's film is.  He may pity him. He may wish him well (4.ii.622-23). He may even trust him, conditionally and because he has no other choice (4.i.618; iii.640; cf. ii.624). Yet he is never fooled. Between their meeting at the foot of the Emyn Muil and their parting in Shelob's Lair, for as long as they journey together, Frodo repeatedly indicates that he knows well the danger Gollum poses, and that even the restraint placed upon him by his oath to the Precious will last only so long (4.ii.623-24; iii.640-41; viii.713-14), an oath Frodo will twice use to terrify Gollum into submission (4.iii.640-41; vi.687). 

Note how Frodo's first action compares to what he said to Gandalf.  He shows not the least hesitation. He springs up, draws Sting, seizes Gollum, and threatens to cut his throat. So far here, Frodo seems as swift and decisive as when he refused to pity Gollum and declared him worthy of death in The Shadow of the Past.  And yet if that were entirely correct, we might expect him simply to kill Gollum outright. Now in part it may well be that Frodo is finding that it is one thing to say 'he deserves death' in the safety of one's own home, and another to become the executioner of that sentence.  But there are other clues here we should not ignore.

At this crucial moment, with Sam's life at immediate risk, Frodo doesn't just kill Gollum or even simply threaten to kill him. Rather, he reminds him that he has seen Sting before and that Bilbo had shown him mercy. He then points out, to Sam's annoyance, that they cannot just kill Gollum, 'not as things are,' that 'he has done us no harm,' and that 'what he means to do' is not strictly relevant. These words, too, are striking reminders of Bilbo's encounter long before:
Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped. 
(The Hobbit, 97, emphasis mine)
So Frodo is clearly thinking of Bilbo here, and seeing the parallels in their situations, even before he recalls his own conversation with Gandalf. In fact that memory seems evoked by his own echo of Gandalf's words and attitude in response to him then. For Frodo's 'I daresay,' followed by a dismissal of what Sam has said about Gollum's intentions parallels Gandalf's 'I daresay' and dismissal of the question of Gollum's deserts.  It is at this moment that their conversation comes back to him, a conversation to which Bilbo had been as crucial as Gollum and the Ring.  But Frodo does not recall Gandalf's words with perfect accuracy:
‘What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’ 
‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so.With Pity.’  
‘I am sorry,’ said Frodo. ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’ 
‘You have not seen him,’ Gandalf broke in. 
‘No, and I don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’  
‘Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.   
(FR 1.ii.59)
Now, noticing that these two passages do not correspond word for word is nothing new. The remembered conversation condenses and omits much. One could easily argue that this is a realistic touch, since memory is selective both in what it recalls and what it forgets. One could also suggest, as Christopher Tolkien does, that the original conversation and the memory of it 'remain different in detail of wording, perhaps not intentionally at all points' (HoME VIII 97).  Thus the discrepancy might owe itself to chance rather than choice.  

I would argue otherwise. The words 'fearing for your own safety' represent a significant addition to Gandalf's actual statement, which stresses Pity and Justice and Life and Death merited and unmerited. To be sure, Frodo had mentioned that he was frightened, but Gandalf in his response had ignored the fear Frodo adduced as a motive. Gandalf, as we saw at that time, argues from higher ground. And yet here Frodo puts these words in his mouth.

In his recent near encounters with Gollum, Frodo had given no indications of pity, only revulsion and fear. In fact when they had come face to face in the darkness on the banks of the Anduin Frodo had also drawn his sword and then informed Aragorn -- who of course already knew -- that Gollum was stalking them (FR 2.ix.384). As Frodo knew well, Aragorn had once captured Gollum and treated him rather harshly (FR 2.ii.253). He cannot have expected less if Strider caught him again.

So what has changed? Is it merely the sight of Gollum, as Frodo openly says? Is it that Frodo has suffered more from evil and had more experience of the Ring since that morning in Bag End? We cannot ignore these factors of course. On no account may Gollum be called prepossessing, and Frodo has certainly learned much of the Ring. Yet between Frodo's encounter with Gollum on the banks of the Anduin and the moment when he holds Sting to his throat, but does not use it, something happens which can help explain Frodo's change of heart as well as the intrusion into his memory of the false detail 'fearing for your own safety.' We will be able to see it even more clearly if we step back to consider the setup. 
The heart of Legolas was running under the stars of a summer night in some northern glade amid the beech-woods; Gimli was fingering gold in his mind, and wondering if it were fit to be wrought into the housing of the Lady's gift. Merry and Pippin in the middle boat were ill at ease, for Boromir sat muttering to himself, sometimes biting his nails, as if some restlessness or doubt consumed him, sometimes seizing a paddle and driving the boat close behind Aragorn's. Then Pippin, who sat in the bow looking back, caught a queer gleam in his eye, as he peered forward gazing at Frodo. Sam had long ago made up his mind that, though boats were maybe not as dangerous as he had been brought up to believe, they were far more uncomfortable than even he had imagined. He was cramped and miserable, having nothing to do but stare at the winter-lands crawling by and the grey water on either side of him. Even when the paddles were in use they did not trust Sam with one. 
(FR 2.ix.382)
What a beautiful paragraph this is in detail and movement, from character to character and from boat to boat. Beginning with the loveliness of Legolas' vivid, dreamlike memory, and Gimli's chivalrous, romantic imaginings, we never expect the uneasy turn it takes, with Merry, Pippin, and the disturbing, almost threatening behavior of Boromir. We then follow Boromir's gaze through Pippin's eyes straight to Frodo in the boat ahead with Strider and Sam. But suddenly and unexpectedly, since our attention has just been directed to Frodo, we find ourselves with Sam instead. But the introduction of Sam here, uncomfortable, unhappy, and untrusted Sam, is a misdirection. It lightens the menace of the sentences on Boromir, but only in order to refocus it a moment later on another threat that is present on the Great River, another one who has his eyes fixed on Frodo and Frodo's burden. The next paragraph reads:
As dusk drew down on the fourth day, he was looking back over the bowed heads of Frodo and Aragorn and the following boats; he was drowsy and longed for camp and the feel of earth under his toes. Suddenly something caught his sight: at first he stared at it listlessly, then he sat up and rubbed his eyes; but when he looked again he could not see it any more. 
(FR 2.ix.382)
It is of course Gollum whom Sam has seen, but the way in which the narrator shifts our attention from Boromir to Gollum is masterful. Notice how Sam is looking back towards the boats behind his own. Given the previous paragraph, we might expect him to have caught the same 'queer gleam' in Boromir's eyes as Pippin did. But it is not so. For just as we followed Boromir's gaze forward to Frodo, but found Sam instead, so, too, we now follow Sam's back, not to Boromir, but to Gollum. Sam's remarking over and over again on Gollum's eyes further pairs these two threats. Nor is this the first time that Frodo has been the object of Boromir's intense gaze (FR 2.viii.369; ix.388). As the moment nears when Frodo must decide between Minas Tirith and Mordor, danger is converging on him from more than one direction. From Gollum of course, but also from Boromir, who, desperate to save his land, feels quite keenly the anguish of the choice which lies before Frodo. And if Gollum, as Boromir himself said, is 'small, but great in mischief' (FR 2.ii.255), what is Boromir?

So much of what Boromir says in the scene where he tries to take the Ring from Frodo plays off earlier scenes involving the Ring. When Boromir says it was only 'unhappy chance' that Frodo had the Ring, and that it should have been his, it recalls the justifications of Bilbo and Gollum (FR 1.i.33, ii.xx. 53, 56-57; 2.x.399) His statement that the Ring is 'a gift to the foes of Mordor', to use as a weapon against Sauron, turns on its head Gandalf's assertion that Bilbo and Frodo had been meant to find the Ring, with the result that they might destroy it (FR 1.ii.55-56; 2.x.398). When he imagines what he might accomplish with the Ring, and avers that ruthlessness -- that is, the want of pity -- is essential to victory, he follows in the footsteps of Gandalf and Galadriel, who also imagined what they might do if they had the Ring, but Boromir falls into the trap that they avoided (FR 1.ii.61; 2.vii.365-66, x.398). When he claims that the Ring belonged by right to the men of Númenor, he reasons as Frodo did when he said that the Ring should be Aragorn's, the heir of Isildur, but Aragorn rejected this reasoning (FR 2.ii.246-47, x.399).  When Boromir threatens to take the Ring from Frodo with his greater strength, it echoes Bilbo's paranoid fear that Gandalf wished to do the same, only now Frodo is not deceived by the Ring as Bilbo was (FR 1.i.34; 2.x.399).  And when Boromir's face changes 'hideously' and 'a raging fire' appears in his eyes, it echoes Frodo's vision of Bilbo as Gollum at Rivendell, but here the change is real, not imaginary (FR 2.i.232, x.399). It is also a reminder of the Eye of Sauron, 'rimmed with fire' that Frodo saw in Galadriel's mirror (FR 2.vii.364).  Again, however, this is not a vision, but a present, physical threat.

Finally, Boromir's attempt to take the Ring plays off the three scenes in which Frodo has freely attempted to give it away -- to Gandalf, Aragorn, and Galadriel (FR 1.ii.61; 2.ii.246-47, vii.365-66), all of whom refused to take it. But after Frodo's confrontation with Boromir, he never again makes this offer. He has seen for himself, unquestionably, how terrifying the evil that the Ring works can be. He has seen it happen to a comrade, whom he had so far known to be brave, self-sacrificing, and honorable. And after this present and personal experience of the evil of the Ring with Boromir, his vision of the Mordor and his near discovery by the Eye itself, his own eyes see some things more clearly.
Frodo rose to his feet. A great weariness was on him, but his will was firm and his heart lighter. He spoke aloud to himself. 'I will do now what I must,' he said. 'This at least is plain: the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the Company, and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. Some I cannot trust, and those I can trust are too dear to me: poor old Sam, and Merry and Pippin. Strider, too: his heart yearns for Minas Tirith, and he will be needed there, now Boromir has fallen into evil. I will go alone. At once.'  
(FR 2.x.401, emphases mine)
Where previously Frodo had been afraid to go to Mordor, as Sam correctly told the others (FR 2.x.403), he now fears to remain with his companions.  The gentle phrases 'the Ring must leave them' and 'now Boromir has fallen into evil' reveal the pity that Frodo feels for the man of Gondor, quite unlike the purely harsh words he had had for Gollum, when he rejected out of hand Gandalf's suggestion that pity was in order (FR 1.ii.59).  Then, too, he had scorned the idea that seeing Gollum would move him to pity, but here seeing does precisely that, not only for Boromir, but potentially for others, too. And so, fearing what the Ring could do to others, Frodo flees the company, only to run almost at once straight into the Tale's foremost example of the evil one could fall into because of the Ring. Although the structure of the book can lead the reader to forget this, only three days pass between The Breaking of the Fellowship and The Taming of Sméagol (RK App B 1092).

Notice, however, that Frodo does not seem to see the 'evil of the Ring' working on himself. He sees his friends and comrades as susceptible to something that makes at least some of  them  -- who, precisely? -- untrustworthy. He nowhere wonders what it is doing to him. Indeed his self-deception here is visible in his thinking that, with the Ring at work, he can trust any of them, regardless of how 'dear' they might be. After all, were not 'Give us that, Déagol, my love' very nearly the last words that luckless hobbit ever heard (FR 1.ii.53)?

What is the whole question of trust bound up with except the fear that someone else will try to take the Ring for himself just as Boromir did? From Gollum's cry of 'thief, thief, thief'' to Bilbo backed against the wall with his hand on his sword, from Frodo wanting to strike Bilbo for reaching for the Ring to Boromir's 'For I am too strong for you, halfling,' the fear of this threat persists, and underlying it is one simple sentence: 'The Ring is mine.'

Thus Frodo will not only pity Gollum when at last he meets him, but will use the Ring to dominate and terrify him, while allowing himself to be called the Master of the Precious. Frodo's journey from Bag End, where he can't throw the Ring into the fire, to the Sammath Naur, where he can't throw the Ring into the fire, is no simple quest by a hero without flaws.


Gollum Before the Taming of Sméagol (I)

Gollum Before the Taming of Sméagol (II)

Gollum Before the Taming of Sméagol (III)

Gollum Before the Taming of Sméagol (IV)

12 February 2016

Glad Would He Have Been To Know Its Fate (RK 5.vi.844)

So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dunedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will. 
(RK 5.vi.844)
We all know how Éowyn fulfilled Glorfindel's prophecy that 'not by the hand of man will [the Witch-king] fall' (RK App. A 1051), a prophecy uttered again in slightly different form by the Witch-king himself even in the hour of his reckoning: 'No living man may hinder me' (RK 5.vi.841). 

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my friend, +Paul Mitchener (distinguished Maths Lecturer at Sheffield and illustrious writer of RPGs), about Merry's experience on the Barrow-downs, and the sword mentioned in the quote above came up. Paul called it 'the final revenge of Arnor.' That was when it hit me. You see, it's obvious that Éowyn fulfills the prophecy by not being a man. Slightly less obviously, so does Merry, who is no man in a different sense (cf. RK App A 1070). Thus we can already see Tolkien playing with the word 'man' in two different ways. But with the addition of 'living' comes yet another layer of meaning, especially given the great emphasis he places on the timeless sword and its history, both here and when Bombadil gave it to Merry back on the Barrow-downs (FR 1.viii.145-46; cf. RK 5.i.756). Only now the weight is on living where before it was on different meanings of man. The smith who wrought this sword is no living man. Yet across the centuries and from out of the grave -- a grave that lies open now because the Witch-king himself once sent an evil spirit to inhabit it (RK App. A 1041) -- that smith has hindered the greatest of the servants of Sauron. 

That's a very cold revenge indeed, and very sharp play on meanings of words.

No irony in Tolkien? 

11 February 2016

"We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West." (RK 5.iv.825)

In my recent Abraham, Wilfred, and John at The Pyre of Denethor (RK 6.vii.850-57) we saw how Tolkien and Owen each used Genesis 22 to inform his own art.  One striking aspect of Tolkien's text that received only scant attention was the two uses of 'heathen.' This word occurs nowhere else in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, The Book of Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, or in the fiction and poetry contained in The History of Middle-Earth, with one exception which we will consider presently. 

Now 'heathen', according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'is applied to persons or races whose religion is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Mohammedan; pagan; Gentile. In earlier times applied also to Mohammedans, but in modern usage, for the most part, restricted to those holding polytheistic beliefs, esp. when uncivilized or uncultured.'1 So within The Lord of the Rings it clearly requires explanation.

Here are the two passages in which the word occurs:
Messengers came again to the chamber in the White Tower, and Pippin let them enter, for they were urgent. Denethor turned his head slowly from Faramir's face, and looked at them silently. 
'The first circle of the City is burning, lord,' they said. 'What are your commands? You are still the Lord and Steward. Not all will follow Mithrandir. Men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned.' 
'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!'  
The messengers without bow or answer turned and fled. 
(RK 5.iv.825)
'Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,' answered Gandalf. 'And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.'
(RK 5.vii.853)
Tolkien here uses 'heathen' to distinguish between the men of Middle-earth before and after year 600 of the Second age when the Dúnedain first returned from Númenor. And in the only other passage where we find the word -- not surprisingly, in The Notion Club Papers -- the link between heathendom and Sauron (here called Zigur) is reinforced:
Then he, King (Tarcalion) landed on the shores of middle-earth, and at once he sent his messengers to (Zigur), commanding him to come in haste to do homage to the king; and he (Zigur) dissembling humbled himself and came, but was filled with secret malice, purposing treachery against the people of the Westfarers..... Thus he led astray wellnigh all the (Numenore)ans with signs and wonders.... and they built a great temple in the midst of the town (of Arminaleth) on the high hill which before was undefiled but now became a heathen fane, and they there sacrificed unspeakable offerings on an unholy altar.... Thus came death-shade into the land of the Westfarers and God's children fell under the shadow.
(HoME IX.258, emphasis added)
So, by falling under the domination of Sauron, the Númenoreans, till then 'God's children', became heathens. And, to see the meaning even more clearly, we need only recognize that the words 'a heathen fane' are the character Rashbold's translation from an Old English original of the words 'haethenum herge' (HoMe IX.257), literally a 'temple for the heathens.'2 The point here is not to criticize Tolkien's translation, but to emphasize what the translation may not fully reveal to the modern ear, namely, that 'heathen' in 'a heathen fane' is a religious reference to a group of people who are not or are no longer God's children; it is not merely a disparaging synonym for 'barbaric' or 'uncivilized,' as it has become for most moderns. It is also perhaps noteworthy that the other four uses of heathen in The Notion Club Papers refer to pagan Vikings (IX 269, 270 twice, 272). That is, they refer to people, proper heathens, who are rightly so called.

Thus, for Denethor to liken himself and his son to 'heathen kings,' and for Gandalf to agree with this characterization, apparently without any knowledge of Denethor's statement, indicates that this word and the act which Denethor has in mind share a meaningful context, at least for those like Gandalf and Denethor whose knowledge of the history of Men in Middle-earth is deep. Equally obviously the word here has nothing to do with Christianity, but rather with the few slim references we find to 'worship' in Tolkien's legendarium.

The most immediate to spring to mind here would be the Men of the Mountains who betrayed Isildur during the War of the Last Alliance, 'for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years' (RK 5.ii.782). Then, too, there is the Mouth of Sauron, of the race of the Black Númenoreans who, 'during the years of Sauron's domination' had 'worshipped' him (RK 5.x.888). With the next we leave The Lord of the Rings and turn to Akallabêth, which brings us once again into close contact with the passage from The Notion Club Papers which we saw above:
Then Ar-Pharazôn the King turned back to the worship of the Dark, and of Melkor the Lord thereof, at first in secret, but ere long openly and in the face of his people; and they for the most part followed him
(Silm. 272)
Turned back?

Now since the worship of any but Eru had been previously unknown in Númenor, and since the remarks of Denethor and Gandalf clearly are not referring to the Númenoreans as 'heathens', but rather as those who rescued the men of Middle-earth from both the domination of Sauron and heathen practices,3  these words -- 'turned back' -- can only refer to a much earlier period, one rarely mentioned and one few men apparently knew much about, though it loomed behind them like a cloud:

But when [Finrodquestioned him concerning the arising of Men and their journeys, Bëor would say little; and indeed he knew little, for the fathers of his people had told few tales of their past and a silence had fallen upon their memory. 'A darkness lies behind us,' Bëor said; 'and we have turned our backs upon it, and we do not desire to return thither even in thought. Westwards our hearts have been turned, and we believe that there we shall find Light.'  
But it was said afterwards among the Eldar that when Men awoke in Hildórien at the rising of the Sun the spies of Morgoth were watchful, and tidings were soon brought to him; and this seemed to him so great a matter that secretly under shadow he himself departed from Angband, and went forth into Middle-earth, leaving to Sauron the command of the War. Of his dealings with Men the Eldar indeed knew nothing, at that time, and learnt but little afterwards; but that a darkness lay upon the hearts of Men (as the shadow of the Kinslaying and the Doom of Mandos lay upon the Noldor) they perceived clearly even in the people of the Elf-friends whom they first knew. 
(Silm. 141)
That darkness upon the hearts of Men was the result of a Fall, in which hasty humans chose to follow Melkor, who promised them much and soon, rather than the Voice they heard, who counselled them that it was better for them to discover things slowly on their own. Too late they learned they had chosen wrong. For so says Adanel, wise woman of the Edain in the First Age, who told the tale to her kinswoman of Andreth:
The first Voice we never heard again, save once. In the stillness of the night It spoke, saying: 'Ye have abjured Me, but ye remain Mine. I gave you life. Now it shall be shortened, and each of you in a little while shall come to Me, to learn who is your Lord: the one ye worship, or I who made him.'      
(Morgoth 347)
This Tale of Adanel is 'given explicitly as a Númenórean tradition' (Morgoth 344), which brings it into close contact with Akallabêth, written by Elendil himself (UT 224), and allows us an understanding of 'turned back' not otherwise possible. Whether Ar-Pharazôn himself knew this tradition about the worship of Melkor himself and thus knowingly turned back is unclear, but Elendil did and saw the Fall happening all over again. Little wonder he called his account 'The Downfallen.'


OED s.v. 'heathen'. 'Mohammedan,' while outdated and offensive today, was common usage at the time the OED was first published.

Rashbold is pun, being a literal translation of the name 'Tolkien' from its German roots.

3 We need to distinguish between the worship of Sauron and the worship of Melkor. Clearly different groups practiced each of them. As has been pointed out many times, Sauron could hardly have credibly proposed to Ar-Pharazôn, his seeming conqueror, that the king should worship him as a god as he was worshipped in Middle-earth. Thus he turned him back to Melkor, cynically or sincerely, but expediently all the same. On this, see Morgoth 398:
Sauron was not a 'sincere' atheist, but he preached atheism, because it weakened resistance to himself (and he had ceased to fear God's action in Arda).  As was seen in the case of Ar-Pharazôn. But there was seen the effect of Melkor upon Sauron: he spoke of Melkor in Melkor's own terms: as a god, or even as God. This may have been the residue of  a state which was in a sense a shadow of good: the ability once in Sauron at least to admire or admit the superiority of a being other than himself. Melkor, and still more Sauron himself afterwards, both profited by this darkened shadow of good and the services of 'worshippers'.  But it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by that time. His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest. But though Sauron's whole true motive was the destruction of the Númenóreans, this was a particular matter of revenge upon Ar-Pharazôn, for humiliation. Sauron (unlike Morgoth) would have been content for the Númenóreans to exist, as his own subjects, and indeed he used a great many  of  them  that he corrupted to his allegiance.    

I believe there is also a link here between King Sheave and the idea of the ships sailing in from the West and 'converting' the heathens to whom Gandalf and Denethor refer, but that is for another day. 

Tulkas and 'Sir Gawain' revisited, ever so briefly

Not long ago, my Mythgard fellow, Luke Baugher, posted an intriguing essay here on Tulkas and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which he argued that a connection may well exist between the word tulkes in Gawain and the Vala Tulkas in The Silmarillion.  Though as Luke pointed out there was no way to prove that Tulkas' name originates in this way, the suggestion makes a great deal of sense.

Now one thing everybody loves about Tulkas is Tolkien's comment that he is 'of no avail as a counsellor' (Silm. 29), which does not fit particularly well with túlkr, the Old Norse word meaning 'interpreter' or 'spokesman' that is the source of tulkes. Yet, as Tolkien's comment above and his behavior elsewhere plainly show, he is by no means above a joke. 

Nor, I would suggest, is he above two jokes here, the first being the obvious one at Tulkas' expense, the second, the more ironic, philological joke of deriving the name of Tulkas, ultimately, from a word that suggests he should be a useful counsellor when he is in fact precisely the opposite.

Ah, Tollers! A philologist's work is never done.

06 February 2016

War of the Ghosts -- A Guest Post By Simon Cook

War of the Ghosts

F. C. Bartlett
At the March 1920 meeting of the Folk-Lore Society, all three papers were delivered by Cambridge men. A.C. Haddon gave the presidential address, W.H.R. Rivers discussed the conception of ‘soul-substance’ in New Guinea and Melanesia, and F.C. Bartlett reported on ‘Some Experiments in the Reproduction of Folk-Stories’.

Does this have anything to do with Tolkien? 

It depends how you look at things; which is really what I want to talk about in this post. Tolkien studies are full of ‘influences’ – as highlighted in the recent flurry of discussion over the state of Tolkien scholarship. Personally, I don’t get ‘influence’, a seemingly occultist notion of action at a distance. No doubt the confusion is subjective.

Another perspective draws upon notions like context and conversation. These are my preferred terms of art, reflecting my training as an intellectual historian. I’ll illustrate how they work by first discussing Bartlett and his 1920 paper, and then pointing to its possible significance for how we think about Tolkien.

Anthropology at Cambridge was established in the wake of a university expedition to Torres Straits in 1898. Returning from the expedition, Haddon and Rivers joined forces with more traditional scholars, notably the classical archaeologist William Ridgeway and the Anglo-Saxonist H.M. Chadwick, to establish a new faculty of anthropology. Ridgeway and Chadwick were working on a novel approach to early European history, which combined archaeology with the study of old literature, such as the Iliad and Beowulf. Haddon and Rivers introduced to this approach the folktales of contemporary ‘primitives’. Bartlett’s 1920 paper was a contribution to an emerging account of the relationship between story and society in history.

Bartlett was a psychologist. His paper on the reproduction of Folk Stories discussed an experiment in which members of his university read a Chinook folk tale, ‘The War of the Ghosts’, and, after varying intervals of time, reproduced it. Reproduction, Bartlett showed, was actually reconstruction: over successive retellings familiar elements were substituted for unfamiliar and the plot structure changed to remove (seemingly) inexplicable connections. As such, Bartlett’s paper contributed to the study of cultural diffusion by way of a psychological experiment on memory.

So what does this tell us? If we approach Bartlett’s paper in terms of influence, pretty much nothing. Tolkien may possibly have read the paper, but probably did not; and even if he did, any direct connection we might establish would probably sit all too easily between the trivial and the vacuous.

Approaching Bartlett’s paper in terms of context is another matter. To begin with, we see immediately that disciplinary divisions were not then what they are now. Under the broad umbrella of ‘anthropology’ we find a sustained interaction between students of Classical and Old English literature, archaeologists, experimental psychologists, and practitioners of a new participant-observer method of ethnological fieldwork. This was not an exercise in what today is called ‘inter-disciplinary studies’; rather, it reflects the fact that before the 1930s the borders between scholarly disciplines had not yet ossified.

Subsequent closing of the borders between academic disciplines has fostered a distorted image of the recent intellectual past. If you search for Bartlett’s ‘War of the Ghosts’ on the internet you will find many accounts by modern psychologists of a celebrated chapter in the history of their discipline. Unless you open up the original report of the experiment in Folk-Lore, however, you would never guess that this psychological experiment was designed to illuminate the processes of cultural diffusion.

Something similar has happened to Tolkien, whose intellectual context is very largely missing from modern Tolkien studies. Verlyn Flieger is better than most, and has correctly identified the discussions of the Folk-Lore Society as important background to Tolkien’s 1939 lecture on ‘Fairy Stories’. Yet even Flieger presents these discussions as focused simply on explaining the unpalatable elements of ancient stories. This is to project the concerns of a modern discipline (English) onto a past in which such narrow and restricted focus would have seemed an inexplicable voluntary myopia. The Folk-Lore Society brought to the table a wide range of interconnected contemporary debates, ranging over issues of comparative religion, racial ethnology, social history, and much else besides.

The context of intellectual debate was different back then. Disciplinary divisions counted for less, and the scholarly mind roamed over a much larger intellectual terrain. Scholars from a wide variety of specialized fields were engaged in the same or similar conversations.

Reading Bartlett can tell us something about the nature of these conversations, which form a vital (yet passed over) context of Tolkien’s thought. Of course, Tolkien was not part of this Cambridge project, nor were his methods, interests, or conclusions aligned with theirs. Yet his were responses to similar questions, and it is easy to locate ground shared by Cambridge psychologist and Oxford philologist.

Consider the ‘Origins’ section in ‘On Fairy Stories’, where Tolkien introduces his notion of individual sub-creation, alludes to the debate over diffusion, and then introduces his metaphor of the Cauldron of Story. The Cauldron presents an image of diffusion at work, with invented elements of fantasy blending with elements of stories significant parts of which have been forgotten. It is the fact that we forget elements of the old stories that allows invented elements of fantasy to be blended into them to make fairy stories.

Whether or not Tolkien was ‘influenced’ by Bartlett is largely irrelevant. The point is that the two men were both participants in a wide-ranging and ongoing conversation. Their work, or at least parts of it, emerged from a shared intellectual context. Bartlett was particularly arrested by the distortions introduced by memory, Tolkien was concerned especially with forgetting. But reading their texts together reveals a wider scholarly community grappling with the relationship of memory and story in history.

One could go further (much further), had we but world enough and time. Suffice it here to point out that while Bartlett’s most famous book was entitled Remembering (1932), Tolkien’s Elves, with their immortal memories and seemingly perfect recall, can be viewed (in addition to many other things) as an intensive and prolonged thought-experiment on what human memory might aspire to, yet palpably is not.

Again, I suggest no influence of Bartlett’s psychology of memory upon Tolkien’s Elves. What I do suggest is that reading Tolkien in context reveals much about the kind of questions that stand behind his writing, just as Tolkien’s highly idiosyncratic answers illuminate the intellectual and cultural concerns of the twentieth century far more than is usually suspected.

Whatever the present state of Tolkien studies might be, it leaves much to be desired from the point of view of the intellectual historian. I submit that, alongside established methods, the cultivation of a contextualist reading of the history of ideas has the potential to transform our understanding of what Tolkien was about.

Some bibliographical references

On the recent ‘state of Tolkien studies’ debates, my favourite contribution, which contains links to others, is ‘Tolkien Criticism Unbound’.

Bartlett’s 1920 paper (as also those of Haddon and Rivers) can be accessed here, via the (wonderful) archive.org (make sure to turn to the second half of the volume).

Flieger has written about the Folk-Lore Society in several places. See for example the first chapter of her Interrupted Music (Kent State University Press, 2005).

You can no doubt access Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy Stories’ without need of biographical reference from me.

Those who wish to read more on Bartlett and Cambridge anthropology in the first decades of the twentieth century can soon turn to two papers available on my Academia.edu page: ‘The Tragedy of Cambridge Anthropology’, forthcoming in History of European Ideas, and (with Tiziana Foresti) ‘War of the Ghosts: Marshall, Veblen, and Bartlett’, forthcoming in History of Political Economy.


Another excellent piece of work by Simon Cook that I would recommend to readers is the monograph, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lost English Mythology, Thank you for agreeing to publish your post here first, Simon. 

01 February 2016

The Saga of Wigend's Chicken Run -- Guest Post by Joe Hoffman

The Saga of Wigend’s Chicken Run




During last fall’s fundraiser for Signum University, Dr. Prof. President Olsen committed to running from the Shire to Minas Tirith in the form of a chicken. In Lord of the Rings Online, that is. The Great Mythgard Chicken Run took place on January 30th. I watched it on TV. Despite (or possibly because of) its absurdity, it was an interesting introduction for me to the LotRO world.

Of course, a chicken doesn’t stand a chance alone in the Wild. He had companions, so the quest should not fail. As the crowd of Mythgardians, elves, dwarves, hobbits, men, and other chickens, swarmed through a square in Edoras, temporarily quadrupling its population, I was provoked to tweet, “I would like to hear the minstrels of Rohan sing of the gang of weirdos who ran through their lands with a flock of chickens.” Be careful what you wish for on the Internet.

Tom Hillman started it, and deserves at least half the blame. The narrative lines are mine; the funny lines are his.

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning

with hen and hatchling strode Hampshire’s son.

‘Gainst foes and foxes, fighters protecting him,

to Minas Tirith the tourist came.

With Foghorn Leghorn, long enduring:

son, I say, son, strong in scorning.

For no lectures would he linger in Lamedon or Lebennin.

His clumsy coursing carried him forward.

Even women long-skirted outran wingéd Wigend

Politely pausing until his approach.

From Rammas Echor to the door of Rath Dinen

Into every breach he stuck his beak.

‘Til his goal achieved, glory gaining

He gracefully tumbled from the Tower of Guard.

In red day dawning crew he loudly.

Eleven herbs and spices seasoned breast and drumstick,

Biscuits in bucket, slaw on the side.

Sweet was the feasting, so the songs tell us.


My thanks to Joe for assembling the fragments of our verse into an at times nearly coherent whole.