Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Taum Santoski's Aphorisms 1 through 6

Since the beginning of August, John Rateliff has, acting as Taum Santoski's literary executor, been posting a series of aphorisms by Taum Santoski in, as I see it, a celebration of Santoski's life and work on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death.

John Rateliff calls them ‘Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy,‘ though he acknowledges that ‘… of Tolkienian Fantasy’ might be ‘nearer the mark.’ The aphorisms appear to me to be rather cryptic (in his commentary John Rateliff also has to occasionally give in and tell us that he has ‘no idea what Taum is talking about here’ so I am at least in good company), so I thought that I would put down my thoughts in the hope of attracting comments that may help my understanding.

My understanding of these first six aphorisms has already been helped a lot by John Rateliff's comments to which I will frequently refer.

First Aphorism
‘Odin the Wanderer’
by Georg von Rosen
(from Wikipedia)
Here Santoski asserts that Tolkien's work is aetiological in nature. Santoski refers to the effort to ‘make comprehensible the human situation of doubt, fear, and hope,‘ and David Bratman, in comments to the original post, speaks of Tolkien's work being also aetiological in an etymological and an historical sense.  To this I would add that Tolkien's work also deals with the basics of causation.  When Tolkien speaks of The Lord of the Rings as being ‘a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,’ I think that this is most clearly visible in the basic fabric of causation in Middle-earth: we see how grace and providence affects the causation, not by wrestling the world into a certain path, but by making certain paths possible and by making some paths more or less likely to be followed than they would have been without the action of grace and providence.  In this way Tolkien deals with the fundamentals of causation. If we take Tom Shippey's ideas of Tolkien creating an asterisk-reality, then Tolkien's work can also be seen as aetiological in the sense that it investigates the (possible) cause of the later European mythologies (Túrin as the asterisk-source of Kullervo and Mithrandir as the origin of the image of Odinn wandering Midgard rather than the other way around).

John Rateliff has seen Tolkien's world as being rather teleological, but I am not convinced these two views are necessarily at odds: within Tolkien's sub-creation, I would say that the purpose of Arda is also largely the cause of much of what is and happens within Arda — one might even argue that Arda, and indeed all of Eä, is caused by Eru's purpose with it.

Second Aphorism
The first part, where Santoski states that the world of Tolkien's mythos (his sub-created world) is ‘related to but not identical’ to our Primary World (to borrow the phrasing of Tolkien's ‘On Fairy-Stories’) seems at first obvious, though it does of course, as David Bratman implies in his comment, depend on what Santoski meant with that phrase.  Tolkien said that ‘The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary,’ and though this means that there is a very great overlap between Tolkien's Secondary World and our Primary World (Middle-earth, as Ian Collier states in a comment, ‘ springs from Tolkien's experience and knowledge of the primary world’), they are still not identical — Tolkien both subtracts from and adds to the Primary World in the sub-creation of his Secondary World, and net result of this process can, to my mind, very well be described by saying that the two worlds are ‘related to but not identical.’  As I say in a comment, Tolkien sets up a situation in which his Secondary World in external fact derives from our (or rather his) present world, but also where, in internal fact, our present Primary World derives from his Secondary World.

Taum Santoski goes on to note that Tolkien's world is not merely a mirror image of the Primary World (not even, I will add, an image in a distorting mirror), but that it contains its own (secondary) reality. Lastly he asserts that Tolkien's world, by this very reality that it uniquely its own, impinges ‘very efectively, but with a newness and nowness, upon our world.’ I am not sure whether there is more to this than a simple statement that any good story worth telling has applicability for the reader, but, as Rateliff notes in connection with aphorism no. 6, ‘perhaps I'm simply not seeing a subtlety here.’

Third Aphorism
In the third aphorism, Taum Santoski asserts that Tolkien's mythic world is ‘in another order of time,’ referring to H.A. Frankfort's idea of the absolute past:
This deliberate co-ordination of cosmic and social events shows most clearly that time to early man did not mean a neutral and abstract frame of reference, but rather a succession of recurring phases, each charged with a peculiar value and significance. Again, as in dealing with space, we find that there are certain ‘regions’ of time which are withdrawn from direct experience and greatly stimulate speculative thought. They are the distant past and the future. Either of these may become normative and absolute; each then falls beyond the range of time altogether. The absolute past does not recede, nor do we approach the absolute future gradually. The ’Kingdom of God’ may at any time break into our present. For the Jews the future is normative. For the Egyptians, on the other hand, the past was normative; and no pharaoh could hope to achieve more than the establishment of the conditions ‘as they were in the time of Rē, in the beginning.’ 
Before philosophy: the intellectual adventure of ancient man: an essay on speculative thought in the ancient Near East by H. and H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson and Thorkild Jacobsen. URL: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL24401493M/Before_philosophy
Receding into the distance,
disappearing from view.
In Tolkien's Secondary World, both past and future are normative — in the absolute past there is the cosmogonical drama and the Golden Age of the Quendi in the Blessed Realm, and in the absolute future there is the promise of Arda Remade, of the Music of both Ainur and Eruhíni — not knowing the relation between the Music and Time, Eru's final chord may come tomorrow or in thousands of years. The events of The Lord of the Rings  can be viewed in both ways. It is clear that events of the Second Age and early Third Age have indeed receded, become mere distant history, but internally we can see Tolkien's ‘discovery’ of the texts as recovering the events of the War of the Ring to an absolute past though they had receded into a far distant historical past that had left only vague traces in the myth of ancient history.

I am not sure what Santoski may mean by saying that the mythic past in Tolkien's world ‘percolates through “history” from time to time,’ though I suspect that this may be because I take the image too literally (there is not a slow seeping through a porous membrane). Still, given Tolkien's use of the musical metaphor, I would prefer to say that the mythical past resonates through all of time, that it is as a standing wave on time between the Word (‘Eä!’) and the final chord.  The Golden Age that is never brought any closer in Time may be Arda remade (or Arda Healed), in which case the Golden Ages that tarnish is every temporary victory within Time, from the Noontide of Valinor through the rule of King Elessar and further. The tarnish on the first Golden Age(s) is light as they remain close in the absolute past, but with the degeneration of the mythological world, the tarnish grows stronger until there can only be an echo of a golden age that quickly recedes in time.

Fourth Aphorism
Four elements  — a
simple explanatory model
The opening statement, that Tolkien's sub-creation is a miniature world sub-created by Tolkien's best efforts, sets the scene for another of my favourite metaphors for explaining what sub-creative literature can do. The author obviously cannot sub-create a full world in all its detail, and so the sub-created world becomes a kind of model understood in the scientific sense. That is, it contains a limited reality that is appropriate for studying some specific phenomena. In physics we will often start mechanics with a model containing only a single force, gradually adding gravity, friction, air resistance etc. as the student progresses. In the same way an author of sub-creative literature sets up a model in which he can study some specific aspects of the human condition without the full noise of reality.

In the continuation Santoski speaks of re-establishing a ‘harmony with the present world’ through participating in the mythic powers of Tolkien's world, mediated by the words. Here I am reminded of Tolkien's statements in ‘On Fairy-Stories’ about Enchantment. I am also reminded of  Bruce Charlton's thoughts in his Notion Club Papers blog that Tolkien's goal was ‘recovery of history as myth,’ though Santoski's aphorisms would, I think, rather lead to the postulation of a goal of restoring an absolute past.

Fifth Aphorism
Inspiration or plagiarism?
Taum Santoski seems here to me to launch an attack against any claim that Tolkien was unoriginal or even that he plagiarized earlier myths, claiming that while some of Tolkien's myths are derived from (or inspired by) ancient mythologies, the sources ‘grow and fructify,’ thus becoming ‘a new thing.’ Having reached some way into Jason Fisher's new book, Tolkien and the Study of his Sources, I think that it might be a worthy line of inquiry for good source studies to attempt to explicate just how Tolkien manages to create something entirely new out of his sources rather than ‘merely a hybridized retelling.’ The focus here would not be on individual sources, but on the interplay of the sources and the literary techniques that allow Tolkien to achieve not a mish-mash (or a ‘hybridized retelling’), but something new that has its own life and its own unique secondary reality.

Sixth Aphorism
John Rateliff thinks that Santoski's claim here is ‘entirely specious, eloquence overwhelming the argument.’ Personally I also suspect a high degree of speciousness, but as Rateliff wisely adds, we may not be seeing the subtlety here.

The argument that if myth and history can be split into two categories, then ‘their definitions must be different processes’ is, I believe, false. There may be different processes involved, but this does not follow necessarily, nor does it follow that such differences of process necessarily the defining difference, even if they exist. I do think that there are procedural differences involved, but I also think that it is more a matter of a complex interplay of many processes where there are differences in the focus and weights of the contributing processes, and thus that the dichotomy of processes is false.

Myth? History? Legend?
Trying to think of examples of the difference between myth and history, I first thought of the events of the later part of the Niflung cycle (the events that Tolkien retold in his Guðrúnarkviða en Nýja, including the fall of both the Burgundians / Niflungs and Attila / Atli. To these events we have both the mythological treatment in the Niflung cycle and the accounts of medieval Greek and Roman historians. Of these the mythological treatment is the later, though we don't know how soon after the actual events they were ‘mythologized’.

The other example I have come up with is the historicizing of mythology that we seen in some medieval accounts, of which the one that I know best is the inclusion by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum of historicized versions of some of the Old Norse myths.

In both of these examples, I do think that Taum Santoski's distinction between perception vs. observation of events can make sense to some degree, but they certainly do not fit a dichotomy, and I believe that this perceived difference, even if correct, is a result of some underlying defining difference that would, I suspect, have to be put in teleological terms: i.e. the defining difference is not in how the account is produced, but rather in why it is produced. To complete the circle of the first six aphorisms, I believe that the differences between the purpose of myth and the purpose of history is to a large extent aetiological: there is in both an element of attempting to explain the present world by causes in the past, but they attempt to explain different aspects of the present world and they look at different causes altogether.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Tolkien Transactions XVI

August 2011

Matthew Bladen, Monday, 8 August 2011, ‘Öjevind Lång’
Early in August the Tolkien Newsgroups were hit by the sad news that Öjevind Lång had died. A long-time regular of the newsgroups, and a personal friend to many of the regulars, Öjevind's warmth, wit and wisdom will long be remembered by those who experienced them in the groups. Öjevind also translated The Children of Húrin to his native Swedish. He will be missed! Namarië!

= = = = News = = = =

Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor, Friday, 5 August 2011, ‘Tea-party hobbits? Hardly, say indignant Tolkien scholars’
One of last month's more amusing items was the appearance of ‘hobbits’ in US politics — presumably intended disparagingly. Though gainsaid by such illustrious Tolkien scholars as Jason Fisher and Wayne Hammond, I will maintain what I said last month that the comparison need not be quite as far-fetched as all that (perhaps I should add that I most certainly do not sympathize with the Tea Party movement). This, of course, does not invalidate the points of critique here levelled against the usage.

Arwen, Middle-earth News, Sunday, 7 August 2011, "Mythgard Institute Partners with UWIC"
The news that the two institutes offering on-line academic courses on Tolkien, the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and the Mythgard Institute, have entered into a partnership and will recognize the credits earned at each other. Strangely the linked pages at the Mythgard Institute appears to have been taken down again — does this mean that the partnership has stopped before it started?

H&S, Monday, 8 August 2011, ‘New Website’
Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull are moving their web-site to a new host and a new URL — see under web sites below.

Glen Weldon, NPR, Thursday, 11 August 2011, "NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction And Fantasy Novels: Parsing The Results"
NPR has had a vote on the 100 best science fiction and fantasy novels, and has now released the results. Not surprisingly _The Lord of the Rings_ comes in first, but it's more surprising that The Silmarillion gets in as number 46. Lewis' Space Trilogy only just makes the list as no. 100. I haven't found any other Inkling books on the list. Children's books and young adult books were banned, which, while this means that The Hobbit and the Narnia books were ruled out together with His Dark Materials and the Harry Potter books, it also kept out such as Twilight and Eragon . . .
John Rateliff comments on the list here:
JDR, Friday, 12 August 2011, ‘And The WInner Is . . . (NPR Fantasy List)’

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

LS, Saturday, 6 August 2011, ‘A Saga sort of post.....’
Primarily on compounding in Germanic languages with a focus on compounds of the old word for an enclosure, geard or garthi. I first read this post shortly after having helped my daughter with her homework on compounds in modern Danish. In modern Danish there is only one way in which you can put two nouns next to each other an keep them as two words: if the first is a genitive form. Otherwise you run them together in a compound word (you do this iteratively, so you can, if you will, construct completely legal compounds of ten or more nouns run together). Speaking of compounds and words, Larry takes his outset from Miklagarthi (Constantinople) and also touches on Tolkien's use of Mundburg and Isengard.

BC, Saturday, 6 August 2011, ‘Tolkien and the nature of evil: Morgoth versus Sauron’
Tom Shippey has discussed Tolkien's portrayal of the nature of evil in The Lord of the Rings, but I think that the study of this question based on The Silmarillion, and particularly based on the late work on the Silmarillion published in Morgoth's Ring and _The War of the Jewels_ is due. Bruce Charlton makes a start of this and that deserves to be encouraged here.

TF, Sunday, 28 August 2011, ‘Source Criticism’
Prior to starting reading Jason Fisher's new book, _Tolkien and the Study of his Sources_ I wanted to put down some of my thoughts on source criticism. Jason has stated (see the Tolkien Library interview below) that he would like to win over some sceptics, and so I thought it a good experiment to see if he manages to sway my views with his book.

= = = = Taum's Aphorisms = = = =

JDR, Wednesday, 10 August 2011, ‘Taum: Twenty Years’
John Rateliff has been publishing a series of posts containing a set of aphorisms written by Taum Santoski (what Rateliff says might be called ‘Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy’), celebrating Santoski's life and his contributions to Tolkien studies up to the twentieth anniversary of his death.
No. 1: Wednesday, 10 August 2011:
No. 2: Thursday, 11 August 2011:
No. 3: Friday, 12 August 2011:
No. 4: Saturday, 13 August 2011:
No. 5: Tuesday, 16 August 2011.
No. 6: Thursday, 18 August 2011:
No. 7: Friday, 26 August 2011:
No. 8: Saturday, 27 August 2011:
No. 9: Sunday, 28 August 2011:
No. 10, Monday, 29 August 2011:
No. 11, Tuesday, 30 August 2011:
No. 12, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

JDR, Friday, 26 August 2011, ‘Taum's Aphorisms, parts I to VI’

One of the advantages of writing in aphorisms is that it lends itself to a great deal of ambigiuity, so there is some room for interpretation ;-) Rateliff says, in his comments to no. 6, that he thinks that this one is ‘entirely specious’ though of course he can't rule out the possibility that he doesn't see the subtlety, and this is, I think, one of the dangers of this form. I am trying myself to make sense of it all, and I think that there is some valuable help both in Rateliff's comments and in other comments on the individual aphorisms.

= = = = Book News = = = =

PC, Monday, 1 August 2011, "Interview with Jason Fisher about Tolkien and the Study of His Sources"
One of the big news of late has been the book that Jason Fisher has been editing on source criticism in a Tolkien context, and here is an interview that Pieter Collier has done with Jason on the subject. I doubt that Jason will win over many of those who reject source criticism as a valid approach to Tolkien's work because they probably will not read his book, but people such as myself, who are very wary of source criticism without rejecting it outright may come to view it in a more positive light. I look very much forward to reading this book.

Damien Bador, The Tolkien Library, Tuesday, 2 August 2011, "Interview with Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull about The Art of the Hobbit"
A little extra information on the upcoming book by Wayne and Christina on Tolkien's own artwork for The Hobbit. There is very little to add, I think, except to note the intriguing promise of their having ‘one or two ideas’ which they 'hope to develop with HarperCollins and the Tolkien Estate' but which they are 'not yet free to talk about'.

JDR, Thursday, 4 August 2011, ‘The Bones of the Ox’
We are, it appears, several who are reading _Tolkien and the Study of his Sources_ edited by Jason Fisher. John Rateliff is one of the contributors, but at the moment of writing, I have not yet reached his essay on She and Tolkien.

Kunochan, Periannath.com, Monday, 8 August 2011, "Glow-in-the-Dark Hobbits & Homophobic Frodos: Rankin Bass' 1980 'The Return of the King' Reviewed"
(Thank you, internet, for URL shorteners!) A rather humorous review of the abominable (as most viewers appear to agree) 1980 animated adaptation of The Return of the Ring by Rankin & Bass.

JF, Friday, 12 August 2011, "My book is now published and available!"
Jason Fisher is understandably elated that his book, _Tolkien and the Study of his Sources_ is now available from the book sellers.

Kristin Thompson, Thursday, 18 August 2011, "editors discuss ‘picturing tolkien,’ a new anthology on the lotr film trilogy"
Kristin Thompson, who wrote The Frodo Franchise, interviews the editors of _Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings Film Trilogy_, a new book dealing with Tolkien and Jackson.

TF, Tuesday, 23 August 2011, ‘Tolkien and Wales’
My on-line review of Phelstead's book Tolkien and Wales. The short version is: it's an excellent book, buy it and read it yourself! The long version? Well, read the review ;-)

JF, Mythprint, Tuesday, 23 August 2011, "Reviews: A Tolkien English Glossary"
‘This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:6 (#347) in June 2011.’ Jason Fisher applauds the concept, but doesn't find the execution at all up to it.

JDR, Thursday, 25 August 2011, "My Newest Publication: "Two Kinds of Absence""
John Rateliff has also contributed to the volume _Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings Film Trilogy_ and here offers a few comments.

PC, Sunday, 28 August 2011, "A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to Accompany The Lord of the Rings Will be Released Next Week"
The text of the news-item from Pieter Collier doesn't appear on the page that it refers to, but the news run:
Next week, on the 1st of September, there will be released the book called A Tolkien Tapestry, that brings together all art by Cor Blok. I'm very proud to announce this, since I was asked to edit the book and find and scan all of the art that was sold all accross the globe. Hope you will all enjoy the result. Further this month there will also be released a signed limited deluxe edition.
Cor Blok's illustrations to The Lord of the Rings have produced some very strong reactions — one needs only to read a few of the on-line discussions on the 2011 and 2012 calendars — but though I have, initially, had to admit that Blok's artwork was outside of my limited sympathies, I have become increasingly curious about his work. I have started to seriously consider buying this book.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

JDR, Friday, 19 August 2011, ‘Taum Santoski’
On the day of the twentieth anniversary of Taum Santoski's death, a brief remembrance.

Tom O'Boyle, _Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, 28 August 2011, "The Next Page / The eternal C.S. Lewis: now, more than ever"
I love Tolkien's work, and I am interested in the other Inklings insofar as the group was an important part of the context in which Tolkien wrote, but I have never read very much of their work (I've read the Narnia books, which I found preachy, but nothing else). So, I glean what I can from what I can find, and here was some bits that I didn't know about C.S. Lewis, and which I found interesting. The perspective is quite obviously Christian (the article describes what can best be termed a pilgrimage to Lewis' Oxford), but not in an importunate way.

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

RABT/AFT: ‘Jackson's Dwarves are smarter Dwarves’
There were some attempts made to try and bridge the usual trenches into which discussions of Jackson's film-versions of _The Lord of the Rings_ too often, and too easily, fall. Though the attempts may not in all ways have been successful, the chance to discover that it is often minute differences in perspective that decide whether you end up being regarded as for or against the films more than made up for the eventual reversal to the entrenched positions of some of the debaters.

LotR Plaza: ‘The Ring and Ofermod’
The best thing about this debate, from my perspective, was that I learned something about the scholarly discussions regarding the interpretation of the Old English word ofermod and of Tolkien's interpretation of The Battle of Maldon.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

I will try to present a couple of sites every month — if I've found a new site (of any kind) that I have found interesting, then I will add that, and then I'll throw in some oldies to keep things rolling ;-)

Wayne & Christina
That Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond has a web-site is nothing new, but it has now moved to a new URL, so remember to update your bookmarks!

The Tolkien Usenet Groups' Web-site Project
The pages at SilenceIsDefeat.net have apparently grown unstable again, and so I will advocate using the mirror I have made on my own web-hotel. Everything that was on the other site is also found here, including the full overview of all our Chapter-of-the-Week discussions. 

= = = = Sources = = = =

John D. Rateliff (JDR) — ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium’

Jason Fisher (JF) — ‘Lingwë — Musings of a Fish’

Michael Drout (MD) — ‘Wormtalk and Slugspeak’

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (H&S) — "Too Many Books and Never Enough"

Pieter Collier (PC) — ‘The Tolkien Library’

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) et Al. — ‘Wormwoodiana’

Corey Olsen (CO), ‘The Tolkien Professor’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Kalimac’
and the old home:

Larry Swain (LS), ‘The Ruminate’

‘Wellinghall’, ‘Musings of an Aging Fan’

Various, ‘The Northeast Tolkien Society’ (NETS), ‘Heren Istarion’

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers’

Andrew Higgins (AH), ‘Wotan's Musings’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

Henry Gee (HG) ‘cromercrox’, ‘The End of the Pier Show’

David Simmons (DS), ‘Aiya Ilúvatar’

Troels Forchhammer (TF), ‘Parmar-kenta’

Mythprint — ‘The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society’

Amon Hen — the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

- and others

Troels Forchhammer

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.
- Terry Pratchett, Hogfather