Significance of Death & Mortality & Immortality in The Lord of the Rings

Discussion in '"The Lord of the Rings"' started by CirdanLinweilin, Dec 15, 2017.

  1. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    Hi All!

    A bit of a morbid subject, but I feel like it's perhaps the most important aspect of Tolkien and his legendarium.

    Death, Mortality and Immortality.

    It is no mystery that The Good Professor was no stranger to these two aspects of Life, (Death and Mortality) having served in WW1 and losing most of his friends. This hit John Ronald harder than we normally believe, since it was diffused into every aspect of his mythology.

    Túrin, Beren and Lúthien, Tuor and Idril, Elrond, Elros, Arwen, Aragorn, Boromir,

    It may seem trite, but these three themes and aspects have touched these characters and many more in such heartbreaking and heart wrenching ways.

    My question to you is: How has these themes portrayed by Tolkien in his legendarium, based on his own experiences, shaped your thoughts and mindset on these topics?

    Go Wild.

    CL
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2017
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  2. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    Dear - I think this is wide over the roof.
    Whoever looks at his own death and mortality (immortality obviously does not exist) will not connect such intimate thinking to any book of fiction.
    No disrespect meant but I fail to see the point or the interest in this type of forum.
    My opinion, my own, of course.
     

  3. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    I can see your point, and I don't disagree, I just see The Professor's experience with losing most of his friends in The Great War, which had a tremendous effect on him, purveying his work, especially The Silmarillion. This is my own opinion, you definitely don't have to agree with it.

    CL
     
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  4. Margaret Shirley

    Margaret Shirley New Member

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    I have to respectfully disagree with Merroe. I think something like that can absolutely be affected by fiction. I have had many instances where works of fiction changed significant parts of my worldview, sometimes because they showed me things I hadn't experienced or didn't know about, because they made me think about something I hadn't thought of before, or even just that they really beautifully portray something. Anyway, as for mortality and LOTR, that is a big thing for me. LOTR definitely gave me a significant change in worldview relating to that topic. In LOTR, the passage of time is a clear motif, and it made me really think about how I will grow old and die, that it will actually happen to me. Of course I've always known that, but it's another thing to watch it play out, makes it more real. This may seem insignificant, but by having the story take place in the past, which things like the appendices where surviving characters die or set sail, makes it feel as though they are both alive and dead, at once present and a distant memory. And now it sounds like I am describing Lothlorien, but that is of course another place heavily related to the passing of time. My point is, I guess, that it started to close the rift between alive and dead, as there is nothing like seeing an extended period of time(I'm including The Sil as well) and watching everyone due to make you realize the only real difference between the ones that live and the ones that don't is a little time. That sounds kind of deppressing, but I don't intend to say it like that. I'm not sure how to explain. I guess I have always loved time, been fascinated by it, and so in a way I like feeling more a part of it. I feel I have not explained myself properly, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that LOTR didn't give me any real "conclusions" in how I think about death, but it forced me to think about it, to stare something I usually would have...avoided in the face. Over the past 4 months(exactly as of tmw!), I've thought a lot about this subject, and I think that LOTR didn't give me any exact perspective on it, instead it forced me to think about it myself. That's one of the things I love about Tolkien actually. He doesn't give any easy answers, no clear "this is what it means"(or at least"this is what I think it means"). Much of what he writes is open to the interpretation and "applicability" of the reader, he forces me to think for myself, in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but that I love precisely for that reason, I have to come to the answer myself.
    I know that was somewhat repetitive, but I was trying to think of the best way to say it. It still didn't come out quite right, but I think it will have to do.
    Also, today is Tolkien's birthday!
     

  5. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    I think that was a good explanation!

    And, Happy Birthday Tolkien!
     
  6. Yalerd

    Yalerd Thinker

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    Great question!

    I think because JRRT was very clear when he explained there is no allegory in his stories, the idea of death may be the one thing that ties this reality to Middle Earth. Humans in Middle Earth always struggled with the notion that their fate was a "gift", and even some of the wisest and oldest still have no conceivable notion of exactly what happens. Very similar to our own history.
     
  7. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    Good Point!

    CL
     
  8. Yalerd

    Yalerd Thinker

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    Given that said, I believe one of the most powerful notions in these stories is how the Numenorean Kings, gifted with so much, long life being the greatest, willingly forfeited their lives when they felt appropriate. Laying themselves down to die when they after what they felt was a long well spent life. King Elessar reviving that act. What a concept! Must've made the Eldar wonder
     
  9. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    Exactly! I think in the beginning of the elves' existence, and some times maybe still in the Third Age, Death was foreign to the Elves, at least how men die, how, like you said the Númenoreans willingly gave up their lives, and where they go afterwards, no one in Arda knew, no one, during the Third Age, and past, and beyond, knew of the Fate of Men.

    Such a powerful, breath-taking, yet profoundly terrifying thought, to willingly give up your life, after a life, deemed by oneself, to be was a well spent life, to journey beyond the Circles of the World, to go where no Elf can Fathom, nor go. When Elves die, they are still bound to Arda, yet when Men die, it is a journey into the Unknown.

    Not even Men knew of the Fate of Men after-death!


    Wow! :eek::eek::eek:

    CL
     
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  10. Yalerd

    Yalerd Thinker

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    Man, I know. Everyone is so protective of their life, fearful of death, and almost in denial over the notion that it ends when it ends. Can you imagine that happening in this world? (Let alone someone in power)
     
  11. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    From what I've personally seen, it kinda already is. It's both powerful and profoundly terrifying. Tolkien hit nails on heads with this concept.

    CL
     
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  12. Rána

    Rána Wayward

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    I believe that one of the main reasons people create art is so that others will connect it with intimate thinking. Be it a painting, a musical composition, a work of written fiction, or any other medium that we use to express ourselves. Art is the language of intimate thought and emotion.

    The theme of mortality is all over the stories of Middle-earth, how can you avoid talking about it? I absolutely love these works as a way to explore things like death and spirituality without getting caught up in a discussion about personal religious beliefs. It sort of levels the playing field when everyone is treating the material as works of fiction. I actually started poking around in Tolkien forums looking for these kinds of conversations. It’s tough not to just spew out all of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind over the years.

    Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world...

    That’s one of the passages that made me realize that the writings of Tolkien are writings that I should be exploring more in depth. It made me realize that the torment of uncertainty that stirs around within my innermost depths wasn’t something that I felt alone. That maybe it was common to the human experience.

    I think it’s really interesting that we can compare the memories of the elder days for Men, which are based on stories, and the memories of the Elves which are based off of their actual experiences of the events. It makes me think of the expression, “those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” The problem isn’t that we forget the historical record of the events, the problem is that we lose our emotional connection as the generations pass. There’s an inherent lack of wisdom that comes along with a finite lifespan.

    Talking about death doesn’t have to be depressing. It’s sobering, sorrowful yet enlightening, but it’s an essential element of life and life is to be celebrated. A lengthy discussion can definitely feel heavy on the mind, the emotions, and the spirit... but heavy lifting makes us stronger, a little bit from time to time is healthy. I think it would be folly to refuse to acknowledge death. That’s essentially what the later Númenórean kings were doing. “You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” They learned that lesson more bitterly than was required.
     
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  13. Notta

    Notta New Member

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    Hello. I am from Russia and would like to ask a question about the book The Lord of the Rings. Can I count on your attention?
    I know very little English. Now I use Google…

    I read the Lord of the Rings in Russian. After a favorite film, I took up the book. And the excerpt from the legend of Aragorn and Arwen caused an extreme misunderstanding. In the Russian forum, I did not receive a convincing answer, because opinions were divided.

    Here is the place - when on the hill Aragorn and Arwen admit each other in love. There are several Russian translations that are considered basic. There are differences. But it sounds like this: they got engaged / swore an oath to each other.

    But then, after Arwen's words, Aragorn says in the English original:
    "...for I am mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then the Twilight you must also renounce..."

    The meaning of the Russian translation of this phrase is this: if she claims that she loves and will remain faithful, then she must confirm her love by choosing the mortal fate of her husband.
    After that, Arwen thinks for a long time…

    I was extremely indignant at this text. Where is the free choice of Arwen? Aragorn put her before the choice - if you love - prove it.

    Aragorn's fans say that the Russian translation is wrong,
    that in fact Aragorn with this phrase warns Arwen of the consequences of her vow of loyalty to him, even gives her a chance to refuse ...
    Please, what is the meaning of this phrase?
    How does it sound for English rumor?

    Thank you so much.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
  14. Starbrow

    Starbrow Tolkien Fan

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    My interpretation is that Aragorn is stating the facts. Since he is mortal, Arwen and he will be separated by death, unless she chooses to become mortal. I don't think Aragorn was asking her to prove her love, but rather think about whether she wanted to also wanted to be with him after death.
     
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  15. Notta

    Notta New Member

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    Many thanks!
    But you said "my interpretation". Does this mean that you allow another interpretation - or is the text in the context of the situation "translated" (sounds in English) absolutely so?
     
  16. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

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    Welcome to The Tolkien Forum, Notta.

    Да, но предупреждение, а не требование. Yes, but a warning, not a demand. (I used Google, too.) The old English phrase Tolkien uses for “got engaged / swore an oath” is “plighted their troth”, and you are correct: that’s exactly what it means: each would remain faithful to other until they could be married.

    If Arwen chooses to cling to Aragorn, then she will lose the Elvish immortality her father Elrond chose, and accept the mortality of Men her uncle Elros embraced. Her fate will the same as Lúthien’s: Lúthien renounced her Elvish immortality to cling to Beren. Her greatest pain was not that she would die, but that she would be separated from her father. Later she also learned that death itself is filled with grief, and had trouble accepting Aragorn’s words of hope (estel), “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. [W]e are not bound forever in the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

    To return to CirdanLinweilin’s theme, in a 1968 BBC interview available here, Tolkien said,
    He then proceeds to cite existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, life-long companion of Jean-Paul Sartre,
    In another place (Letters of JRR Tolkien, I think, but I do not care to dig out the precise quotation right now), Tolkien remarks that Men and Elves represent two aspects of Humanity. Men in his legendarium are like us: they die after some time and do not return to this world. Elves cannot leave the world: They are not immortal, per se, but immensely longevial, their end coming with the end of Arda. That is not immortality, but maximum longevity beginning at birth. Tolkien has Finrod Felagund discuss this with Andreth, his brother Aegnor’s mortal lover from whom Aegnor withholds his affections. When Finrod assures her his brother does love her, and is equally pained by their separation, Andreth is bitter, and accuses the Eldar of arrogance: in popular “social justice” parlance, “bigotry”. Finrod then points out that Elves die, too, and though their end may be far off, they are not in a different situation altogether: though their end is yet far off, they dread it as much as Men. And when Finrod learns from Andreth that Men have “the Old Hope” that Eru Himself will enter into Arda and redeem them, he accepts this, but replies that no one has ever spoken to the Elves of any hope or redemption for them.

    This immense longevity without hope eventually produces within the Elves both regret and longing: Regret for their errors; Longing to slow or prevent change. It is this depressing mix of regret and longing that Sauron harnesses to ensnare the Noldor of Eregion into fashioning the Rings of Power. It is fear of death and envy of the life of the Eldar that Sauron’s first spies and emissaries in Westernesse, the three Númenórean lords who fall prey to their portion of the Nine Rings, use to foment the initial rebellion against Eru and the Valar among the Dúnedain, that Sauron himself later exacerbates to bring about the Downfall of Númenor.

    Men envy Elves, yet Elves envy Men.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
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  17. Notta

    Notta New Member

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    Oh, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    Your answer is very detailed and understandable -
    and completely solves my question.
    I am very glad that you gave me so much of your time -
    all the best for you, Alcuin !
     
  18. Azrubêl

    Azrubêl Drúadan

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    His conception of how Beren and Luthien re-make the laws of the universe to be united in their love has been deeply impactful on my own life. I have at times honed my conceptions of life and death because of the clarity of Tolkien's sub-creation universe as art.
     
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  19. Blueduindain

    Blueduindain Made in Gondor

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    Honestly, i think it was shaped by Tolkien's experience; as he was left widowed. he probably thought there was nothing worse than being left alone by you're spouse after their deaths. So they chose mortality to die together.
     
  20. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

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    Tolkien died in 1973 aged 81. His wife Edith predeceased him by only 21 months after a marriage that lasted over 55 years. He was only widowed near the end of his life, and while he did write about it in a letter to his son Christopher (Letters 340, July 1972), his wife’s death did not impact his stories, which by then were as nearly complete as he was able to make them.

    His love for Edith had a powerful influence on the story of Beren and Lúthien, however, and the names “Lúthien” and “Beren” are carved on their tombstone. (See images here.) The aforementioned letter to Christopher Tolkien contains a well-known passage,
    The wildly romantic notion of Beren dying in Lúthien’s arms and Lúthien’s telling him to await her in Mandos – Men who died left Arda but passed briefly through name of the fortress of the Vala Námo, who was consequently referred to by the name of his fortress, Mandos, where Elves who died remained until re-embodied – came to Tolkien while he was convalescing from illness in Yorkshire during the Great War.

    I do not know the full story of the development of Tolkien’s concept of the different fates of Elves and Men. In the Preface to the Lord of the Rings, he writes,
    But again, I do not believe this led to the idea of immortal Elves, though the shell-shattered field of the Somme did work its way into his descriptions of Mordor and the Dagorlad plain.

    The sources for Tolkien’s Elves is a matter of debate. Elfs and dwarfs – I deliberately use the older plurals for them – are generally unfriendly creatures in mythology. Goethe’s poem “The Elf-king” depicts a demonic spirit stealing the life of a child from his father’s arms. (Poem here, Wikipedia write-up here.) It is a thoroughly frightening and unpleasant tale for children! Dwarfs were accounted the cause of any number of evils: illness, injured cattle, headaches, and far more and worse. Both were considered wicked creatures to be avoided even before the advent of Christianity in Europe outside the Roman Empire. Sometimes elfs and dwarfs are indistinguishable, and I think the words were used somewhat interchangeably.

    At some point, though, Tolkien came to regard Elves as creatures much like us, but bound to the world, unable to leave until the world itself ended. Which is a pretty sobering thought, one Tolkien uses to fill the Elves with sadness and regret. This decision must have come very early on.

    I believe Tolkien began his invention of Quenya around 1910. From his consideration of the Finnish poetic cycle Kalevala, which he loved, he came to believe he needed a “history” or “legendarium” for it in order to develop the language as if it were real. The original version of “The Fall of Gondolin” was written in 1916, a year before “The Tale of Tinúviel” in 1917. Since “The Fall of Gondolin” involves the marriage of a mortal Man, Tuor, to an Elven princess, Idril; and “Lúthien and Beren” the marriage of the immortal Lúthien and the mortal Beren, I suppose the beginnings of this dichotomy between the fates of Elves and Men must begin there.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018

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