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‘Did Tolkien Create a True Mythology’?

Eogthea

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I dont think it can be qualified as actual mythology, I mean, if it is real it should be believed. As knowledgable as we all are in Tolkien mythology, I have my doubts that any of us take it as the highest form of truth or really believe that elves live in the woods and dwarves in the mountains. It is as amazing and complex as true mythology, yet, as no one holds it as a religion, it cannot be qualified as real mythology.
 

Ragnarok

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Do you think Zeus really threw lightning bolts at people from a mountain? Or Hades took some chick (forgot her name, Persephone maybe?) to Hell cause she ate fruit. Or Hercules did all that stuff? No mythology is real.
 

Gothmog

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What Eogthea posted is correct. At one time many believed that Zeus threw lighting and Mars WAS the God of war. These are now the mythology of our time. The religions of this era will if we survive long enough form the basis of myths for our decendents.

It is a fact that briliant as is the work of Tolkien it is a manufactured mythology whereas the myths of our world are religions and beliefs that over a long period of time have been changed.

It may even be that in a few centuries the work of Tolkien may still be remembered and then thought to have been something believed in by us. If that happens then it will have become Myth. In that case he would have created True Mythology but we will not be around to see it.
 

Moonbeams

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We do not belive anymore that elves exist, or dwarves for that matter. But there was a time when people belived in them, feared them, or hoped thay will find them. You can find them scattered through myths of nations all around the world.
Tolkiens book is not a true mythology, but it is based on ancient myths, or rather, on ancient mythological creatures.
And concider this: Homers Iliada, the poem of the fall of Troy, was for endless years concidered a myth. Until they realy found it. All myths are in some way based on truth, only the truth has been blown out of proportion so much that we cannot see it, or belive it. If a lot of nations in this world has common myths about elves, and similar creatures, couldn't it be that there is some truth in them as well, and they are based on something that once realy existed?
 

WARDNINE

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Speak for yourself! :)
Some of us surely do believe that elves and dwarves and the like existed, as surely as we believe that Dodo birds and T-Rex existed.
Science discovers tons of "new species" every year, from fossil remains etc. And-- they discover species still living that they never knew were here. Some things, it seems, prefer to stay hidden.
I'm not saying I have gnomes in my attic, I'm just saying that I don't discount things just because they are "fairy tales". Those things came from somewhere.
No, I'm not a nut. I just prefer to tell the kids "Who knows? Have you ever seen a triceratops in the back yard? Of course not. But surely they were here once."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check out a pitter-patter in the attic. Darn gnomes and their late-night soirees! :)
 

HLGStrider

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Re: um

I'm blaming the fact that my car window wouldn't roll down saturday on a Gremlin, but that's just me. . .

Tolkien actually lamented that there wasn't what he considered a true mythology for England, so he made up one he felt would suit. . .though I think Tolkien's epic of the Lord of the Rings is more sweeping than a mythology. The Sil sort of meets the criteria, but Lord of the Rings is what I would call a romantic history.
 

Hammersmith

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Re: um

HLGStrider said:
I'm blaming the fact that my car window wouldn't roll down saturday on a Gremlin, but that's just me. . .
Not the door-ding gnomes! :eek:

While I doubt anyone will one day believe Lord Of The Rings to be accurate in any sense of the word, as a belief held by people, are not most ancient mythologies (like Troy, an account which Homer certainly did NOT start) based on a fact and then wrapped repeatedly in superstition, dogma, political convenience and the like? Rome was founded once, though probably not by a survivor of Troy's fall, or by feral children.
 

Alcuin

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Re: um

Tolkien wrote extensively on this subject in his essay, “On Fairy Stories”, originally delivered as an Andrew Lang lecture given at the University of St. Andrews on Wednesday 8 March 1939, first published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams by Oxford University Press in 1947, and currently available in The Tolkien Reader. Tolkien says in the “Epilogue” to “On Fairy Stories” that
…The peculiar quality of the “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter.

It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite. I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels – peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is an extensive quote, but if I must be slapped for it, I plead this excuse: that nothing about which Tolkien wrote was likely closer to his heart than this.

It is particularly apt to recall these words of Tolkien’s as Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is in preparation for cinematic distribution. C.S. Lewis, author of Narnia, friend of Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and Charles Williams, was not a Christian. Humphrey Carter wrote in his biography Tolkien, that Lewis
had professed agnosticism: … while making a precarious living as a tutor, he had arrived at … the belief that Christian ‘myth’ conveys as much truth as most men can comprehend. … he had moved … to the conclusion that in effect his search for the source of what he called joy was a search for God. Soon it became apparent to him that he must accept or reject God. At this juncture, be became friends with Tolkien.
And later,
…on Saturday 19 September 1931 they met in the evening. … After dinner, Lewis, Tolkien, and Dyson went out for air. It was a blustery night, but they strolled along Addison’s Walk discussing the purpose of myth. …

As the night wore on, Tolkien and Dyson showed him that he was here making a totally unnecessary demand. When he encountered the idea of sacrifice in the mythology of a pagan religion he admired it and was moved by it; … But from the Gospels (they said) he was requiring something more, a clear meaning beyond myth. Could he not transfer his comparatively unquestioning appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story?

But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.

No, said Tolkien, they are not.

You call a tree a tree, he said, and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. … just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. … Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

In expounding his belief in the inherent truth of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the centre of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of The Silmarillion.

Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened?
When you go to see Narnia this Christmas, or you reread (or watch) The Lord of the Rings, look for eucatastrophe, the far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.
 

Walter

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Re: um

It should be noted that the account of this conversation has been made up by H. Carpenter, basically from Tolkien's poem Mythopoeia (which may or may not in a way be "dedicated" to Lewis; see Carpenter's footnote on p. 151)
 

Walter

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The world is full of origin myths, and all are factually false. The world is full, also, of great traditional books tracing the history of man (but focused narrowly on the local group) from the age of mythological beginnings, through periods of increasing plausibility, to a time almost within memory, when the chronicles begin to carry the record, with a show of rational factuality, to the present. Furthermore, just as all primitive mythologies serve to validate the customs, systems of sentiments, and political aims of their respective local groups, so do these great traditional books. On the surface they may appear to have been composed as conscientious history. In depth they reveal themselves to have been conceived as myths: poetic readings of the mystery of life from a certain interested point of view. But to read a poem as a chronicle of fact is – to say the least – to miss the point. To say a little more, it is to prove oneself a dolt. And to add to this, the men who put these books together were not dolts but knew precisely what they were doing – as the evidence of their manner of work reveals at every turn.

Joseph Campbell: The Masks of God - Vol III Occidental Mythology
Now in my opinion to consider Tolkien's legendarium not a mythology, because it has never been believed in, is – to say the least – to miss the point. But I shall refrain from saying a little more, here... :D

As much as "On Fairy-stories" reveals about the sub-creational aspect of Fairy-stories in general and about the better part of Tolkien's legendarium in particular, there are at least two others of his essays which should be also taken into consideration when one tries to understand his legendarium in the context of myths and mythologies, namely "Beowulf - the Monsters and the Critics" and "A Secret Vice" of which especially the latter IMO is widely underestimated. In this essay Tolkien mentions that ...language construction will breed a mythology and in one of his letters (#165) he explains

If I might elucidate what H. Breit has left of my letter: the remark about 'philology' was intended to allude to what is I think a primary 'fact' about my work, that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. The authorities of the university might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances, and call it a 'hobby', pardonable because it has been (surprisingly to me as much as to anyone) successful. But it is not a 'hobby', in the sense of something quite different from one's work, taken up as a relief-outlet. The invention of languages is the foundation. The 'stones' were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows*). I should have preferred to write in 'Elvish'. But, of course, such a work as The Lord of the Rings has been edited and only as much 'language' has been left in as I thought would be stomached by readers. (I now find that many would have liked more.) But there is a great deal of linguistic matter (other than actually 'elvish' names and words) included or mythologically expressed in the book. It is to me, anyway, largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic', as I sometimes say to people who ask me 'what is it all about?'

*) I once scribbled 'hobbit' on a blank page of some boring school exam. Paper in the early 1930´s. It was some time before I discovered what it referred to.
In the first decades of the 20th century a few renowned philologists (and philosophers) were trying to trace back the origins of languages and myths to their very roots - the time when mythos slowly became logos and human nous had not yet been in the state it is nowadays. As much as this conception of a "Mythopoeic Mind" has been bashed lateron, people like Lévy-Bruhl, Barfield, Cassirer, Tolkien - and later probably Lewis as well - seemed convinced that the origins of myths and language were inseparably intertwined.

Thus, if we are seriously trying to understand Tolkien's fictional legendarium in the context of other - tradited - myths we are bound to study not only the vaste body of myths from all over the world to a certain degree, we need also observe and examine the basic "patterns" behind them which may lead us to their very origins. Then - and IMO only then - we might be able to judge whether or not Tolkien's legendarium qualifies to be considered a mythology...

But that, of course, is only how I see things....
 

HLGStrider

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Re: um

There used to be a mildly interesting thread that asked if there was a world wide plague that wiped up all life on earth and some aliens later landed and found a copy of the LotR's, would they assume it was our religion/history?

I think that there would be enough lack of evidence compared to most mythologies that they wouldn't.

For instance, Greek Mythologies we have statues and mosaics. There would be none of this record historically to back it up, so there would be no more reason to assume LotR's truth than any other work of fiction they might locate . . . with the exception of it maybe being more prevalent in book collections and libraries than other books.

I know that isn't the point of this thread, but I thought I'd bring it into the conversation as semi-related.
 

Walter

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Re: um

What a bull...

The aliens would, of course, be perfectly aware of our history and religions. Don't you know that they have computers in their spaceships which (or I should rather say "who" because these computers always seem to have a personality as well) not only control the WARP drive, but also have all the relevant information available one could possibly think of.

Now, assuming that not aliens, but some of us humans (equipped only with our petty brains and no successors of HAL at hand) at a certain point in the distant future would find - let's say - a copy of the Kalevala on the one hand, and a copy of the Sil and LotR on the other. How would they be able to know that one is a work which has only been written down after centuries of oral tradition and the other one a fictional work? Not an easy task, I imagine...

But I agree, this is "semi-related" .... at best...
 

Arvedui

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Re: um

Elgee,

Look at my previous post in this thread, 8 posts up from this. There's a link there to the thread you mentioned;)
 

Alcuin

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Re: um

I think that, at least on one level, Tolkien did intend to create a myth: a myth for England. That he could this with linguistics and his philological works served to give the resulting product an unusual feel of “reality,” of seeming “true,” because it sounds and reads like things that really are true in the real world.

There seem to be two tracks of intention running parallel, but intertwined; and where the one ends and the other begins is not always clear. Tolkien was experimenting with language, with its evolution and aging process: with the “life-cycle” of a language, if you will. In order to do this, he also created a history of the people who used it, and he changed the language based upon that history. But I believe that in his own words, he quite clearly describes his desire to construct a myth or legendarium as well.

Tolkien intended “to make a body of more or less connected legend… dedicate[d] to England.” I think he succeeded. He discusses this in a letter to Milton Waldman, a publisher with whom he spoke briefly about publishing Lord of the Rings instead of Allen & Unwin.

This is from Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, Letter 131 “to Milton Waldman”, pp 144-145:
There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish …; but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. …

…Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. …)

…I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story-the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air' (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. …

…such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories … arose in my mind as 'given' things, and … so too the links grew. … I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of 'inventing'.
We read on to pp 146-147 and find,
The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. …

It moves then swiftly to the History of the Elves, or the Silmarillion proper; to the world as we perceive it, but of course transfigured in a still half-mythical mode. …

In the cosmogony there is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. ... the Elves have a fall, before their 'history' can become storial. …

As the stories become less mythical, and more like stories and romances, Men are interwoven. …
….
But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. ...
A little later, in Letter 156 to Robert Murray, SJ (“SJ” probably means Mr. Murray was a Jesuit; he was the nephew of the editor of the original Oxford Dictionary, and was a Tolkien family friend: Carpenter, Tolkien, p.158), page 207:
…they were still living on the borders of myth – or rather this story exhibits 'myth' passing into History or the Dominion of Men; for of course the Shadow will arise again in a sense …, but never again (unless it be before the great End) will an evil daemon be incarnate as a physical enemy; he will direct Men and all the complications of half-evils, and defective-goods, and the twilights of doubt as to sides, such situations as he most loves (you can see them already arising in the War of the Ring, which is by no means so clear cut an issue as some critics have averred): …
 

Walter

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Re: um

Alcuin said:
...in Letter 156 to Robert Murray, SJ (“SJ” probably means Mr. Murray was a Jesuit; he was the nephew of the editor of the original Oxford Dictionary, and was a Tolkien family friend...
Father Robert Murray was indeed a Jesuit, the "SJ" stands for Societas Iesu/Jesu...
 

Walter

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Re: um

Alcuin said:
I think that, at least on one level, Tolkien did intend to create a myth: a myth for England. That he could this with linguistics and his philological works served to give the resulting product an unusual feel of “reality,” of seeming “true,” because it sounds and reads like things that really are true in the real world.
Yes, it appears that at a certain time Tolkien invested a lot of time and energy in this "project".

But it was - at least in my opinion - somehow a strange project. From all evidence we have to assume that this should have been a mythology for Anglo-Saxon England only. Which seems already a bit awkward, if we consider the rather turbulent early history of the British Isles with its ever changing peoples and cultures.

And even more so when we notice, that Tolkien seems to have considered making a claim for the Anglo-Saxons as the rightful original rulers of Britain (cf. Ing and the Sheaf episodes).

What keeps me puzzled also, is the fact that Tolkien on the one hand loathed the way how the German Nazis were "hijacking" German history and mythology to make their case, but on the other was at least pondering the idea of a similar nationalistic approach: claiming his own Ancestors would be the only rightful rulers of England.

Tolkien intended “to make a body of more or less connected legend… dedicate[d] to England.” I think he succeeded.
I think that depends on what we consider "succeeding". He certainly did not succeed in publishing this more or less connected legend, though he tried it more than once. At first the publishers wouldn't have it, and later when they were more than willing to publish everything he wrote, he couldn't make his mind about the "what" and "how" and began a laborious rewriting and restructuring to little avail.

And though the tales and fragments we have got - thanks to Christopher's laborious, diligent and tedious efforts - are highly interesting, we do not really know what this body of more or less connected legend would contain and what it would look like, had Tolkien managed to publish it during his lifetime.

And thus we can only guess whether or not we would see the flat or round earth approach, or whether or not we would encounter an Eriol/Aelfwine figure - to name but two of the most crucial examples - in J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology.
 

HLGStrider

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Re: um

I think the Nazis were into proving they were the only ones with rights to rule the World. Tolkien was only after England.

Anyway, in a Monarcy where heirs are decided by heirtage and blood lines are important, I think there was nothing particularly nationalistic about it. The rightful king of England would be the one from the right blood line which includes nationality, after all.
 

Arvedui

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Re: um

I just happened by chance to find this in The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, Commentary on The Cottage of Lost Play:
The story of Eriol the mariner was central to my father's original conception of the mythology. In those days, as he recounted long after in a letter to his friend Milton Waldman, [Letters, page 144] the primary intention of his work was to satisfy his desire for a specifically and recognizably Englsih literature of 'faerie':
But as we all know, that conception dissappeared through the years. And so, is it really safe to say that whatever the state of his manuscripts in the end, The Silmarillion was really a mythology in the end? I do not feel too sure about that.
 

Walter

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Re: um

HLGStrider said:
I think the Nazis were into proving they were the only ones with rights to rule the World. Tolkien was only after England.
If we bother to study only a little history we might soon realize, that this is a rather simplistic view upon matters.

The term "Germans" is already a tad problematic since it was at first mostly based on Gaius Julius Caesars distiction of Gauls for those peoples who dwelt at the left side of the river Rhine and Germans for those who dwelt at its right side. Caesar - who was but a prokonsul at that time - here ignored the ethnical composition of the peoples in Middle-Europe during the last Centuries BCE, and he did that either out of ignorance or purposely to make his case and pursue his very ambitious political goals. And somehow this distinction was kept up until the 19th and 20th century.

But be that as it may, fact is that during the first centuries CE a variety of Germanic - Germanic here in the ethnical sense - tribes formed and in the last century BCE they began to migrate all over Europe (and farther). Ethnically these Germanic tribes can be considered heirs of the Indo-European pastoral tribes who had originally dwelt most probably somewhere in southern Sibiria or north of the Black sea and which had begun to spread East, West and South from there already during the last millennia of the Neolithicum.

In the 19th and early 20th century some German historians and philologists made the claim, that the roots of the Indo-Germanic "family" had been somewhere in southern Skandinavia and northern Germany and that the Germans - and only they - were the direct descendants of these "original" Indogermans. This claim was eagerly taken up and supported by these radical groups which later formed the core of the national-socialistic regime in Germany und consequently - according to their line of argumentation - they also had a rightful claim as the rulers of all - or at least most - of the territory inhabited by peoples with "Indogermanic" languages.

Furthermore they greatly appreciated all things they considered purely "Germanic", such as Germanic mythology as portrayed by Wagner (which is about as precise as Shakespeares portray of elves) and a certain sense of heroism (which Tolkien so aptly describes in his "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics").

HLGStrider said:
Anyway, in a Monarcy where heirs are decided by heirtage and blood lines are important, I think there was nothing particularly nationalistic about it. The rightful king of England would be the one from the right blood line which includes nationality, after all.
Again some study of the history of the British Isles should elucidate that the Anglo-Saxons were but fierce invaders (originally they dwelt roughly in the area of todays Schleswig-Holstein and southern Denmark) and that they dominated Britain only for a relatively brief period - if at all. Constructing a claim that the heirs of these invaders (who btw. happened to be Tolkien's remote ancestors) would be the rightful rulers of Britain (bloodline or not) appears to me about as nationalistic - and as justified - as the German approach...
 
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