Saturday, April 22, 2017

Creation, Temporality, and Transmission

Many of the issues that arose in class regarding the interpretation of Tolkien’s creation myth in the Ainulindalë rest fundamentally on issues regarding the temporality of events described in the text. The issue of when exactly Arda comes into being, i.e. the question of what precisely constitutes the creative act, rests on the distinction between different moments in the tale. For the question to make sense, the playing of the music must be at a distinct time from Illúvatar speaking “Eä!” which in turn must be distinct from the moment in which the Valar enter Arda. Similarly, the problem of whether Illúvatar knew of Melkor’s eventual fall before the discord that he introduces rests intrinsically on the notion of a “before” being distinguishable from an “after”. However, it is not necessarily the case that the true act of creation (as opposed to the retelling of this act in the Ainulindalë) had the same, or indeed any, temporal structure.

The discussion of these concerns is ultimately restricted to the portions of The Silmarillion and The Lost Road detailing the Music of the Ainur. It is true that the Ainulindalë as published in the Silmarillion has a clear narrative and temporal structure. Indeed, notions dependent temporal order are present from the first paragraph:
“There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Illúvatar; and he first made the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding them to themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest harkened; for each comprehended that part of the mind of Illúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to a deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony”. [Emphasis added] (Silmarillion 3) 
This type of temporal language is highly representative of the rest of the Ainulindalë, and rightfully so, for it is still fundamentally a story. Being a story, it necessarily contains a narrative structure. As such, it is not very useful to blindly conjecture on what happened in creation - we should not make guesses as to the ‘true’ nature of events, especially if these guesses are at odds with what is presented in the Ainulindalë. However, in addition to analyzing the narrative presented in the text, we should also analyze the metanarrative, i.e. the frame of the story, or the history of the transmission of the myth from the Eldar to the later (present) ages. Recognizing that the story has come to us through a series of “elf-friends” aides us in seeing past the temporal structure and allows us to gain insight into the “truth” of creation.

The Silmarillion comes to us through at least four elf-friends; first from the Ainur to the Eldalië (Eldar) with the help of the Valar, then from the Eldar to Bilbo via his time spent in Rivendell, from Bilbo to Tolkien via the Red Book of Westmarch, and from Tolkien to us via the work of his son Christopher. For this transmission to succeed, each elf-friend must explain the story in terms that the audience will understand. This means that, as would be expected, there is some diminishing of the true nature of the story over the course of transmission. The Valar had to frame the story of creation in terms that the Elves, embodied and temporal beings, could understand. Similarly, the elves had to transmit the story to Bilbo, a mortal and “simpler” being than themselves. This diminishing continues until we reach the current version of the story presented in the Ainulindalë. I argue that the narrative structure of the Ainulindalë arises out of this transmission. That is, the Ainulindalë is presented with some linear temporal structure not as a reflection of the true events at the creation of Eä, but rather as an artefact of the transmission of those events to us. Creation could be presented as nothing other than a story because we understand the world through stories.

With this reasoning as justification, we can then posit that Eru and the rest of the Ainur exist outside of time without contradicting the texts of the Ainulindalë. This view is not entirely without basis: Eru and the Ainur seem to inhabit some realm separate from our universe. The nature of this realm is not explicitly described, except that it is separate from Eä, and thus somehow separate from all of “that which is”. This notion of a separation between the realms of Eru and the Ainur and the rest of Creation appears to be somewhat constant throughout Tolkien’s drafts: Even in the early drafts of the Music of the Ainur he says “Thereafter [Ilúvatar] fashioned [the Ainur] dwellings in the void…” (Lost Tales 52). If we take temporality or the flow of time to be something that exists, i.e. something that “stands outside of nothingness”, and not simply a quality of existing, then we can say that Eru and the Ainur exist outside of time.

This notion of the Creator outside of time is not new, and certainly would not have been alien to Tolkien, rooted in Catholic thought as he was. St. Augustine discusses such a notion in Book XI, Chapter XIII of his Confessions:
But if the roving thought of any one should wander through the images of bygone time, and wonder that You, the God Almighty, and All-creating, and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and earth, for innumerable ages refrained from so great a work before You would make it, let him awake and consider that he wonders at false things. For whence could innumerable ages pass by which You did not make, since You are the Author and Creator of all ages? Or what times should those be which were not made by You? Or how should they pass by if they had not been? Since, therefore, You are the Creator of all times, if any time was before You made heaven and earth, why is it said that You refrained from working? For that very time You made, nor could times pass by before You made times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it asked, What were You doing then? For there was no then when time was not.
This is the key conclusion that resolves many of our initial concerns. If Illúvatar is atemporal, the problem of his pre-knowledge of Melkor’s discord vanishes, as do our concerns about the specific moment in which creation occurs. What are we to make then of the music of creation itself? Assuming a metanarrative point of view, we can ask why the Valar (or Tolkien, depending on where we place ourselves on the line of transmission) chose to describe creation in musical terms if not for its linearity and progression in time. We touched in class on the idea that music is inherently ordered (in the sense of structured), even if this order falls short of being a narrative in its own right. In explaining creation to the Eldar through the myth of the Music of the Ainur, the Valar hoped to convey this order. Creation therefore, like music, is an ordered act by Eru. This notion is reminiscent of the idea of logos, but the full implications of such a view lead far away from our initial concerns, and whither then? I cannot say.
      - GPL

Works Cited:

Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. "Ainulindalë." The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine, 2002. N. pag. Print.

Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. The Book Of Lost Tales V.1. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Print.

The Confessions of St. Augustine. Translated by J.G. Pilkington. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Link

Friday, April 21, 2017

Subcreation versus Creation

The Ainulindale is at its root a creation myth, and so I want to focus on how Tolkien (a devout Christian) handles creation in his own sub-created work. To do this, I want to draw comparisons to the Christian creation story to more clearly show how Tolkien's decisions show his own views on creation versus subcreation.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Ainulindale and the Christian story of creation is the all-maker's role. In the Christian story, the exact means by which God creates shifts a bit, but one thing is constant: God creates everything. Iluvatar's role is much less involved by contrast. To make this very obvious, we can look at what the Christian God did:
  • Created the heavens and the earth
  • Created the angels
  • Separated light from dark
  • Gave form to land and separated it from water
  • Created all plants and vegetation
  • Created all living beasts
  • Created mankind
versus what Iluvatar did:
  • Created the Ainur
  • Played three music themes
  • Gave a vision to the Ainur of Arda
  • Created the world (unformed)
  • Created the Children of Iluvatar - elves and men
Both of these lists are very simplified and neither do justice to the extent of God's or Iluvatar's deeds, but they still bring up an important point: Iluvatar accomplishes much less in comparison to God. Iluvatar creates the Ainur, Elves, and Men, and he creates a blob of mass that will be turned into Arda, but he doesn't actually form the mountains, forests, valleys, and seas - this is the job of Ainur. Why does Tolkien make 'the One' so passive and give so much more agency to the Ainur? We can see this even in the title of this piece - the Music of the Ainur. This title tells us that we're not nearly as concerned with the One, even though he is the one who starts all of the themes that end up creating Arda and nothing can come forth that didn't originally exist in him. Instead, this name focuses on the themes created by the Ainur and the works that come from the Ainur's labors. I believe that part of the answer lies in looking at this piece in relation to subcreation.

Tolkien's clearest definition of subcreation comes from Mythopoeia:
"The heart of man is not compound of lies, / 
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
 / and still recalls him. Though now long / estranged,
 / man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed. / 
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
/ and keeps the rags of lordship once he / owned, / 
his world-dominion by creative act:
 / not his to worship the great Artefact, / 
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
 / through whom is splintered from a single / White / 
to many hues, and endlessly combined / 
in living shapes that move from mind to mind. / 
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
 / with elves and goblins, though we dared to build / 
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
 / and sow the seeds of dragons, 'twas our right / 
(used or misused). / The right has not decayed. / 
We make still by the law in which we're made.
"
The Ainur are the original subcreators. This is a long quote, but by breaking it down we can see many of the Ainur's motives are textbook subcreation. As they enter the world, forever estranged from Iluvatar, each Ainu "draws some wisdom from the only Wise, / and still recalls him. Though now long estranged..." and all of their works are based off of the vision that Iluvatar showed them. They have power through creation, specifically through creation that praises and worships Iluvatar, the vision he showed them, and his Children. Finally, we can see a direction connection to the line "We make still by the law in which we're made." Iluvatar made the Ainur and the original themes, and nothing can happen that was not in those original themes. Likewise, the Ainur go about their making in ways that mimic (but do not surpass) the way in which they were made and with the information put into them by Iluvatar. Iluvatar gives knowledge to each of them, and they use this knowledge to give body to Iluvatar's vision. They are not successful in matching his original vision (now that they are embodied they aren't capable of matching Iluvatar's power and vision), but they still work out of love for that original vision. There were, however, some of the Ainur who went against these rules for subcreation.

Aule and Melkor are the clear examples for subcreation gone wrong. Melkor does not seek to create in order to praise or worship Iluvatar, he seeks to create for his own gain. We can see this in the line "When therefore Earth was young and full of flame Melkor coveted it, and he said to the other Valar: 'This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!" (Ainulindale). Melkor covets the Artefact itself and works only for his own gain, not for the glory of Iluvatar. On the other hand, Aule's works go from subcreation to creation itself when he makes the Dwarves, which is another red mark for subcreators. Subcreation should be done in reference and in reverence to creation, it shouldn't seek to challenge it.

This brings us to the final point: it's important to remember that the Ainulindale itself is subcreation. Tolkien clearly struggled with fairy-stories and their relation to religion (as can be evidenced by the existence of the Mythopoeia) and his answer seems to have come in the answer of subcreation. He wouldn't have written a mythology that would somehow challenge or attempt to be 'greater than' the Christian one, and so it wouldn't make sense to write a creation myth that is too similar or could somehow exist in contrast to or as an alternative to Genesis or any of the other Christian accounts of creation. Instead, he wrote a creation myth which focuses on the beauty of creation mediated through music and gave power to a group of angels. His work is done in reverence to the beauty that he saw around him.

- V. Pressler

Tolkien and Timshel


Just a few verses past the familiar opening lines of Genesis, the scriptures waste no time before revealing the horrors wrought by a free will freely given to evil. First, Adam and Eve are cast from the garden, yet that story is so thoroughly worn-out that it can strike us ironically as idyllic or perhaps inevitable (as our discussion sought to draw out). For the sake of this post, my interest in Tolkien’s inflection of scriptural tones looks to the dialogue of the next chapter of Genesis, wherein scripture turns its eye toward the two sons of the first human beings. In this second vision of man’s first evil, the darkness that rests within man’s reach is put on fuller display, and it seems to me that this tale deserves a place in our consideration of the machinations of Tolkien’s creation story. Cain murders his brother Abel without precedent, and this story strikes a chord with Tolkien such that it mythically appears with greater resonance in a later tale of The Simarillion, yet it is the ambiguous question of agency that I found reappeared in the Ainulindale.

The inevitability of evil guided much of our later discussion on Wednesday, so in the following post I want to draw attention to another use of agency in Music as the mode of Creation. By focusing on God’s words to Cain in Genesis 4, I hope to note the heights to which Tolkien lifts the agency of the Creation in determining its own shape – perhaps lifting the will of the created to a summit higher than a Christian might generally feel comfortable.

In Genesis 4, God speaks to Cain to console him after the Lord expresses greater appreciation for the sacrifice of Abel. Famously (and of great interest in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden) God tells Cain that sin is waiting to devour him, but that Cain “may/must/can/shall rule over it” (Gen. 4:7, translation intentionally ambiguous). Steinbeck’s novel explores the difficulty of the Hebrew term “Timshel” that has been translated, “may rule over it” or “can rule over it” which each connote potency but that this scriptural term may also connote Cain’s charge that he “must rule over [sin].” While it is the scriptures in other places that shine greater light on the limits and power of free will, this version of the creation story emphasizes the power of each will – it can rule over sin, and perhaps it must, but it certainly may – and the role that the will of man has in shaping his destiny.

In class, it seemed that our comments revolved around the origin of sin, but we did not push very deeply into the gravity of the faculty that makes discord a possibility much less a reality. Both in Christian scripture and in the Ainulindale, was it the will of the Almighty that discord come into being? In what sense is this will active, or is this a passive permission for the privation of good? Such were our questions, and while these questions are of interest for their mystery, the limits to which Tolkien stretches the role of the will among the Ainur caught me as far more scandalous than the retold, eternal mystery of the first rebellion. For it is on this point – the role of the agency and work of the Created in forming Creation – that Tolkien seems to depart, at least superficially, from Christian theology and makes use once more of his conviction that the created creates with the pleasure of the Creator.

To summarize the Creation myth as it appears in the Bible, with attention to the role of speech and song: God makes by the Word, the Creation praises. Full stop. This two-part story takes on curves and clarifications when the scriptures are rightfully read in the whole, such as the role of God’s perfect Word in bringing all things into being as told by John and the primordial role of praise among the created angels of God as in Jubilees, but nevertheless this is the clear division of the cosmogony as told by Scripture. God creates all according to His Mind, and the Creation sings according to its glories. Tolkien’s version, however, introduces an agency within this process that strikes me as innovative if not in a subtle manner at dissonance with this explanation of Who does the creating, and who does the singing.

The Ainulindale begins, as does the Christian myth, with the Transcendent All-Father. Where the Christian tradition beholds this Godhead in eternal, triune relation, Tolkien’s deity retains the confused unitarianism of the scriptures without the revelation of Christ. This aside, Eru proceeds to create the Ainur. These beings – definitely created, prime as they may be – learn from the speech of Eru that which they sing at the foot of His throne. Among Tolkien’s varying accounts of the Ainulindale, the order and manner of the following plot development varies a bit, but they agree that the Music of the Ainur is then made real, Ea!-ed into being by Eru. It is not Eru’s thought or Word (as the intellect of Eru from which the Ainur proceed might be understood as a mythological Logos) that model the cosmos, but the song of the Ainur as freely sung in the presence of Eru before there even was. The sons of God, in Jubilees and Job, are depicted singing praises in the immemorial age gone by, this is true, yet their song has no agency in determining the shape of the creation. There is no Timshel to be given to them as warning or charge, because their songs of praise are reflective rather than prescriptive.

In the Scriptures, the warning of Timshel belongs to man, and only then after Creation takes place, yet Tolkien folds agency back into the Creation itself with the audacity of an author convinced that sub-creating is simply the highest calling of the Creation. The Ainur do perfectly that which Tolkien does literarily, and Melkor brings about a Felix Culpa before there is even an apple to be eaten. Genesis places Adam’s sin on the scale of divine justice, but Tolkien blames the Evil One for the horror of frost and the wonder of a snowflake in a world in tension. Fuller implications for this shift might be sketched out, but at the very least this seems to continue our interest in Tolkien's notion of sub-creation as well as his ordering of the cosmic hierarchy and the relative agency of each strata therein.

- WK

Can the music of creation be accurately described as a narrative?

I have argued that the temporal terms with which the music is described, and in particular the crucial order of events in Tolkien’s account of creation, suggest that the fundamental substance of creation- that is, the music- can be understood in narrative terms, as both song and story. We have, of course, a narrative account of the music in the form of the Ainulindalё. Naturally any aspect of a creation myth occurring before the world was created should be interpreted somewhat figuratively- e.g. the Ainur were not literally singing as they did not have vocal chords, and strictly speaking time as we experience it did not exist - but the importance of a particular temporal sequence of events, enacted by characters, are important abstract features of the music that must be taken seriously as keys to the nature of creation. Its directionality differentiates the music of creation from songs of praise and joy commonly ascribed to angels. The music of the Ainur has a purpose it builds toward, and furthermore it involves interactions between distinct voices, including some who oppose each other. In other words, it has a plot, characters, and a conflict. The music takes a form similar to that of a narrative, with Melkor’s discord causing increasing tension until the third theme resolves it.

When Ilúvatar shows the Ainur their music as a vision, its true nature as the story of Arda is revealed: the Ainur watch as “this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew” (Silmarillion, 17). By the end of the vision, they are “engrossed in the unfolding of the World… the history was incomplete and the circles of time not full-wrought when the vision was taken away” (20). That the music takes visual form as the history of a world is more evidence that it is fundamentally a story as much as a melody. The Ainur were not necessarily aware in the beginning that their music was creating a story, just as they did not foresee the existence of the Children whose world they had created, yet the telling of a great story was evidently Ilúvatar’s intention. It is crucial that the elements of creation are not, as in biblical creation accounts, light or water or earth; they are harmony, discord, and theme. There are also, from the very beginning, witnesses and actors- sentient beings besides God who are present during creation. It is these fundamentally aesthetic elements which comprise the world. They are best understood as literary elements as well. The music is a drama that plays out first among the Ainur themselves before anything else was made, and second in the physical world.

I would further argue that there is strong evidence outside the Ainulindalё for Tolkien’s stuff of creation being fundamentally narrative in nature. In Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories”, he explicitly identifies sub-creation with story writing, saying that in a successful fantasy “the story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator.’ He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter” (The Tolkien Reader, 60). If this is an example of perfect sub-creation, the original creation must have taken a similar form- and is not the creation of a secondary world, into which other minds could enter, precisely Ilúvatar’s feat in the Ainulindalё? Of course, sub-creative acts can take the form of many types of art, but it does seem that Tolkien specifically had story-telling in mind when describing its successful attainment: “To make a Secondary World… we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode” (70). He even speculates that the real world, created by God, may be well described by this literary explanation: “The Gospels contain… a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories… 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” (88). Since Tolkien identifies biblical creation with the crafting of a narrative, he may very well have applied this idea to his own creation myth.

If the music is a narrative, then what is Melkor’s role in it, and to what extent was this role anticipated or intended by Ilúvatar? To answer this question, we must view Ilúvatar as an author with similar motivations to Tolkien’s. 

Despite his destructive intent, Melkor is credited with creating many beautiful things in Arda, just as he made the third theme possible with his discord. I mentioned my favorite example in class: his creation of ice and clouds from water. These inventions were born out of his conflict with Ulmo, and his attempts to meddle with and disrupt Ulmo’s province. The result, however, is that water becomes “fairer than [Ulmo’s] heart imagined”, demonstrating that “all things have served most faithfully the purpose of Ilúvatar” (19). In this way, a character with Melkor’s motivations proves necessary for the creation of certain good things- and in particular, beautiful things- for the benefit of both Ilúvatar himself and those who have entered into his secondary world, here represented by Ulmo. He plays a similar role within the rest of Tolkien’s story. Without the theft of the Silmarils, for example, the light of Eärendil could not have given hope to Sam upon the slopes of Mount Doom, and could not have inspired the many songs and poems about his voyages. From the perspective of a reader in the primary world, there would be no story worth reading without the Darkening of Valinor and all of Morgoth’s subsequent deeds. We should remember that the music of creation is characterized as “beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from whence its beauty chiefly came” (16-7). Why Melkor’s rebellion? In Tolkien’s own words, “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall” (Letter 131). What, then, is Melkor? He, like all other elements in the great story, is a source of beauty- perhaps even one of its chief sources.

To summarize, we can liken Ilúvatar to Tolkien himself in that he is first and foremost an author who desires to create a beautiful story. Ultimately, beauty requires sorrow, loss, conflict and resolution, and unexpected events. It is the task of the creator or sub-creator to combine these into a compelling narrative.

-------------

Finally, as an alternative to the songs we explored in class as possible analogues to the Ainulindalё, I would like to propose Tool’s Lateralus. This song has a clear directionality, beginning with a single, simple melody and growing into a complex piece characterized by polyrhythms (lines in different time signatures played simultaneously), with the effect that seemingly different or even incompatible parts come together to create a unified whole. Careful listening reveals even more complexity and craftsmanship- for example, the number of syllables in each line of the verse correspond to the first few numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. Of course, the song’s lyrics also mirror its structural progression toward combined complexity and unity, most obviously in its central image: an ever-growing spiral.


H. Bell


Sources:
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Mariner, 2001).
_____, Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000; first published 1981)
________, The Tolkien Reader (New York: Del Rey, 1966).

Music out of Time

One of the largest distinctions between the Ainulindale and the Christian creation story is the point at which Time is created.  In the Christian creation story Time is one of the first things that God creates, God says "let there be light", light is put into the world, separated from the darkness and Time then simply Is. In the Ainulindale however, Time enters the story on about the sixth page when the Valar enter into Ea "at the beginning of Time".  For thinking about the music of the Ainur, and the sequence of events in Tolkien's creation story, this introduction of Time six pages into the story creates quite a few conundrums as we discussed in class.

The first conundrum has to deal with the creation story itself because as Tolkien states just after the Valar enter into Ea, "the World had been but foreshadowed and foresung".  Foreshadowing tends to imply at least in my mind that the foreshadowing had to occur before the events that were foreshadowed.  However if the Valar are existing at the beginning of time how could something have foreshadowed Time?  Now it is silly to think that the music of the Ainur was not sung before the world was created because the world could not have been created without the music of the Ainur, at least as far as my reading of the story goes.  This then begs the question of when Tolkien says "the beginning of Time" does he mean the beginning of Time for Ea and that some other master Time that Iluvatar and the Ainur are operating under already exists?  Or does he actually mean that Time did not exist before Ea was created and that we simply do not really have a way to comprehend what a lack of Time is like?  For my purposes I am going to assume, correctly or not, that when Tolkien says "the beginning of Time" the capital T implies that Time as we understand it did not exist before the moment the Valar enter into Ea.

The second conundrum deals with music.  As multiple people pointed out in our class discussion, music has a hard time existing without the concept of Time.  The temporal relation of sounds with one another is a crucial component to our conceptualization of music.  Without Time, music as we perceive it can not exist.  This leads to some interesting conclusions.  Is the music of the Ainur even music as we could comprehend it, or did the Valar try to think of someway to describe the experience of world creation to the Elves in a way that they could comprehend it?  I have been trying to wrap my mind around what music without time could sound like, but I think understanding this might be outside the realm of human imagination.  If the music of the Ainur is not actual music as we understand it, what does that mean for music in Tolkien's world?  If we think of music as the instrument of creation, whenever we see music in Tolkien's story that relationship between music and creation is always in the back of our mind changing how we see the power of music in Middle Earth.  However if music is just a way for us to attempt an understanding of how the Ainur helped to create existence, music loses a lot of its power.  Sure it is still helping people in Tolkien's world try to understand creation, but is no longer as if when the people of Tolkien's world make music that they are somehow participating in an ancient tradition of creation.

The third conundrum deals with the "music" of the Ainur itself.  As I stated earlier it does not really make sense for me to try and comprehend the mode by which the Ainur assisted in creation other than music, because as a human that is all i am capable of doing.  In class a discussion arose over whether or not we can think of the "music" of the Ainur as a story.  One might think because of my issues with Tolkien's use of Time I would be against thinking of this "music" as a story, however upon further reading i feel that this is the only way to comprehend the "music" of the Ainur.  This "music" is not just a story, but the story of everything.  Iluvatar states that "those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done."  Iluvatar goes on to say "Behold your Music!" when "this World began to unfold its history."  The "music" of the Ainur is the story of everything wrought by the hands of a multitude of voices.  Because of the knowledge that each Ainur has of the music that he sung, "the Ainur know much of what is, what was, and is, and is to come,and few things are unseen by them".  While Iluvatar did not reveal to the Ainur all the he added to the story, from my reading it seems as if in Tolkien's world the history and story of everything is fairly planned out from the "music" that the Ainur sung.  While perhaps Men have some freedom to create their own stories, it is hard to not read everything as being a part of Iluvatar's overall plan for the universe.

Like all stories a major issue of the Ainulindale is how we hear/receive the story.  The Valar clearly had to describe creation to the Elves in a manner that the Elves could understand, otherwise there would be no story that we could read and have any hope of comprehending.  A music without temporality?  Sound in a void? Time before existence?  These are all concepts this mythological story must work around so that we can garner what little meaning we can from it.  What is clear though is that the Valar are "elf friends" and sub-creators in the ultimate sense that they definitely belong to multiple worlds and help create the world as well as our understandings of the world.  Some great mysteries, such as those surrounding creation, are mysteries for a reason, and bashing our heads into a wall trying to think about them will give us a headache that not even the most beautiful music in the world can cure.

-JFrancis

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thought Experiment

In a common conception of free will, God grants it to humankind immediately when he creates them in his image. Free will exposes man to temptation and the Fall, but redeems him, in likening his image to God’s own, and in creating meaning in his choice of closeness to God. But there is room for doubt as to whether God’s plan is optimal for the human condition: might we better serve our purpose if we had been trapped in the garden of Eden? By withholding free will from many, only explicitly granting it to Men, Tolkien himself “experiments” (Letters, 236) with this alternative of trapping humankind in perfection versus granting the sub-creative power of free will. Within the frame of this experiment is Iluvatar's own thought experiment, in which conceding sub-creative power over reality to other beings allows Iluvatar to grow in contemplation of the world, evolving despite being Supreme.

Iluvatar endows Men and Ilúvatar’s higher powers, in particular the Valar, with free will. Our discussion include some debate over whether Melkor had free will. Indeed, at some points it seems as if Melkor has evil fixed in his nature, and cannot change his evil that Ilúvatar designed. He exhibits some early, but unsuccessful, struggle against his Fate:
And [Melkor] feigned, even to himself at first, that he desired to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilúvatar, controlling the turmoils of the heat and the cold that had come to pass through him. But he desired rather to subdue (Silmarillion, 18)
Here, one might view Melkor as having only control over his attitude, as Elves do, and little influence on his Fate. Melkor’s agency, however, manifests itself during the Great Music, in which Ilúvatar’s new themes are reactions based on Melkor’s behavior. Further evidence for Melkor’s free will comes from Tolkien himself, who notes that Ilúvatar gives “special ‘sub-creative’ powers to certain of His Highest created beings.” (Letters, 195). While guaranteeing the sub-creations’ integration into reality, Ilúvatar institutes a “ban against making other ‘rational’ creatures” (Letters, 195). But the rules are meant to be broken; rules cannot be inviolable by definition. This possibility of crossing his will implies the existence of wills other than his own, wills other than Fate, which are free will.

Indeed, Morgoth's sub-creation challenges Ilúvatar’s power, but in distancing from Iluvatar creates new perspective. Morgoth unable to create souls, molds existing souls into corrupted beings, Orcs. But redemption is not impossible, not even for this grave transgression (Letters, 195). In fact, such challenges assist in the Valar’s task of "separation" (Flieger, 55) between Ilúvatar and the world. By opening a rift between beings and Ilúvatar, a rift as wide as complete defiance, free will assists in the purpose of Creation: the process “through which Eru and the world can contemplate each other” (Flieger, 55). Contrary to popular belief, the One learns. This fact makes him no less Supreme, however. Though we tend to assume that the One is all-knowing, his concession of some power to others makes him less than all-powerful, and opens room for growth of knowledge. Of course, this knowledge is often that which non-supreme cannot comprehend. Like the Christian motif than echoes throughout Tolkien, the One humbles himself.

Evidence for Ilúvatar’s development of more wisdom is direct in Tolkien’s Ainulindalë. The Ainur are the “offspring of his thought” and seem to be copies of Ilúvatar’s mental existence, for each “comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came” (Silmarillion, 15). Flieger goes as far as to suggest the Ainur are the collection of pieces of Eru, suggesting “a sort of Pythagorean divisibility of a unity into component parts without diminution of the whole” (Flieger, 51). They seem to be together the mind of Ilúvatar, developing like a newborn brain and forming connections and synapses, coming to “deeper understanding” and growing in “harmony and unison” (Silmarillion, 15). If anything can be called the birth of God, Tolkien has written it here. Ilúvatar’s motivation for expansion into “visible” Creation might be incomprehensible and complex, but certainly the introduction of free will, of conceding the permutations of reality effectively to the arbitrary judgements of other beings, brings probability and chance into the equation and complicates reality.

Perhaps the greatest complication of reality is the massive splintering of sub-creative powers into mortal beings, rolling millions of small dice. Tolkien compares Morgoth’s Fall to contemporary political tyranny that debases and corrupts humans (Letters, 195). Human sub-creative power, thus, has as much potential for evil as Morgoth’s, and likely as much potential for beauty. This sub-creative power is curbed only by Ilúvatar’s other Gift to Men: death. Death instills an appreciation for Creation in Men, giving them “the mystery of the love of the world” (Letters, 246). Death loads the dice. The balance skews towards contributing to Ilúvatar’s design, rather than sub-creating domains of power for oneself.

Yet free will and death are only half of this intellectual experiment Tolkien conducts with humans. The Elves are the control, the humankind “doomed not to leave” the world (Letters, 246) and travel it in anguish and sorrow. The Elves have some extent of free choice over internal matters such as attitude, but lack sub-creative control over their Fate. What is left in humans without death or free will is a race of pre-Fall humans, still in the original state, never having left Eden.

Elves lack the “spiral” to achieve “higher planes” (Letters, 110). Rather than undergoing processes of Fall and redemption, they are immutable over the centuries. Their “enhanced aesthetic and creative faculties” (Letters, 176) are not sub-creative, but rather of the regular variety of creation. That is, all of their creations follow the Great Music blueprint to the note, without freedom of variation. Despite “greater beauty and longer life” (Letters, 176), they suffer sorrow and tragedy as they are forced to witness evil ravaging Creation. This “anguish” is three-fold. Firstly, lacking the Gift of death, they suffer from beauty-fatigue, de-sensitized to the beauty of Creation. Secondly, without free will they fail to understand the motivations of evil, having never experienced temptation. Worse than facing evil is battling incomprensible, unrelatable evil. Thirdly, they are overprotected and trapped; their cultural unity splinters into groups depending on whether they answer the call to Valinor, where the Ainur hope to further contain them in the hope of shielding them.

Tolkien’s experiment with free will finds conclusion in Leaf by Niggle. Niggle, the active sub-creator, is beautified under the pressure of time. Parish is of the other type of human, enduring Niggle’s neglect without understanding, faithfully tending to existing Creation. When the two exit to the afterlife, the first and second Voices put Niggle to work. As Niggle rises to the final level of Purgatory, his sub-creation becomes powerfully redemptive, saving both him, Parish. The two Voices are surprised at the unexpectedly profound contribution that the sub-creation Niggle’s Parish makes to Creation. It becomes a powerful spiritual rehabilitation tool in Purgatory, contributing from beyond the One Creator's mind.

-JJ

Tolkien, Jive, and Evil

In Letter 96, Tolkien reveals some small part of his musical taste. Particularly, he makes it extremely clear that he was not a fan of the music he lived with in the 1940s and 1950s. he writes "I read eagerly all the details of your life, and the things you see and do -- and suffer, Jive and Boogie-Woogie among them. You will have no heart-tug at losing that (for it is essentially vulgar music, corrupted by the mechanism, echoing in dreary un-nourished heads)". To him, swing music is a great travesty, worse than the music he personally enjoyed (and therefore objectively bad). However, the way he voices his discontent echoes his constant distrust of the mechanical throughout his works. Here, I hope to analyze why Tolkien finds swing music distateful, and use this to shed new light on the debate whether Melkor was evil for introducing discord into the Music of the Ainur, despite only acting within the powers Iluvatar gave to him.

Firstly, in order to understand why machines are something evil, we need to look at the act of creation. In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien describes Fantasy as the act of 'sub-creation' simulating "the internal consistency of reality". It is sub-creation because it is not generating a true life, which is a power only God can give, but it simulates that creation in His praise. The mechanism of generating a 'secondary world' (the result of the sub-creation) is Art. This Art, however, is very difficult. Tolkien demonstrates this in Leaf by Niggle, as Niggle spends his entire life trying to create "a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different." Niggle fails to during his lifetime, and only once he reaches his home in 'Niggle's Parish', as Tolkien names it at the end, can he create something believable enough to live in.

The end result of the creation is an 'enchantment'. Tolkien defines an enchantment very strictly; it "produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in both desire and purpose." This is Niggle's Parish, at least once Parish arrives. It is artistic desire made manifest, and in its physicality even the least artistic critics were satisfied. This enchantment clearly applies to music, as Tolkien shows in the Ainulindale. In that, the world is itself the result of an Enchantment. "Behold your music! This [Arda] is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem he himself devised or added." This is the ultimate Enchantment; Iluvatar turned a sub-creation into a primary one.

Now we can turn to machines. Machines are not simply produced things. After all, Niggle uses canvas and paint, both of which have to be manufactured. Tolkien himself used a typewriter whenever he could (Letter 257). No, machines are something to be distrusted for other reasons. The first is when it takes over the hard work of the sub-creator. By mass-producing goods, it encourages disposable creation, designed to make a small profit than be a work of praise. Ursula leGuin observed this result indirectly in her essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie", when she noted that "certain writers of fantasy are building six-lane highways and trailer parks with drive-in movies, so that tourist can feel at home just as it they were back in Poughkeepsie". This is crime of the machine; the enchantment cannot work when tricks and mechanisms replace thought and skill and the creator's own hand. The second reason to fear machines is that they dominate others, converting humanity's sub-creative force into a tool to cause pain. Tolkien's concern with this is expressed in The Hobbit, where he writes of the goblins "it is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help." Machines dominate and destroy, preventing people from exercising their sub-creative potential.

Now finally, we can look at swing music, and what Tolkien means when he describes as "corrupted by the mechanism". Putting aside the question of whether these tests are actually valid, swing seems to fall into the same traps as machines.

The test swing music fails most obviously is that of domination. Structurally, swing, like jazz, is highly concerned with the solo. Most of the band is generally relegated to keeping rhythm while a single player dominates the field. Often (and intentionally), this has little regard for harmony, instead playing with dissonance at the whim of the soloist. Many players never even get a chance to add their own voice to the music; they exist solely to provide a set foundation for a solo. I believe that Tolkien viewed this as over-reaching the music, forcing musical potential to serve the whims of a single dominating force (This can, of course, be persuasively argued against. However, I am following what I believe to be Tolkien's thought process in this work).

Swing dancing also fails at creating enchantment. In swing, the frenetic energy of the song encourages motion among the spectators. It is something that works best in the moment, instead of in quiet, harmonic contemplation. This is why swing is only for "un-nourished minds"; thought and analysis seems counter-intuitive to the music (again, this is something I believe to be untrue, and only something Tolkien thought because he had little musical ability, as he himself admitted in Letter 260). This does not generate enchantment, but frenzy.* The listener is not satisfied, but drained by the music. This failure makes it more akin to the separation imposed by machines. Exhaustion induced by tricks of sound replace the ecstasy of music, making swing a mockery of 'higher' melodies.

Finally, I'd like to use this discussion to analyze Melkor. He is placed as the antagonist of the Ainulindale, as he sought to "to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accordance with the theme of Iluvatar". However, prior to the beginning of the music, Iluvatar instructed the Ainur to "show forth your power in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices". Melkor therefore was only doing what he was instructed, and as Iluvatar told Melkor, even the strife he caused was "but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory". However, regardless of the result, Melkor was evil in intent. Like a soloist in swing music, he gave no care to his peers and compatriots, and indeed acted in their despite. By overriding the melody with his own thoughts, he denied others the ability to engage in their own subcreation and praise, making him fundamentally Evil.

-AFB

*This is where swing music differs from the plainchant that Tolkien loved. While both rely on a single line of melody, chanting is somber and encourages contemplation, while swing is far more active and complex.

Sources:
JRR Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion. New York: Ballatine Books
JRR Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin
____, The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballatine Books
____, The Hobbit. New York; Houghton Mifflin
Ursula LeGuin, "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" in The Language of the Night. HarperCollins

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Make Melodies For Ever to His Delight

Tolkien wanted to create an “English” mythology, because he felt that the English did not have a mythology of their own. Every mythology needs a good creation account. Tolkien’s account of the creation of Middle-earth reflects his Christian faith, though he often protested against allegations of allegory. He did not intentionally create an allegorical parallel to Judeo-Christian accounts of the creation, but his primary reality did work its way into the secondary reality that he sub-created. In Tolkien’s creation account, music is the instrument—pun intended—of the creative process as well as worship of the Creator for His creative process. The Fall in Tolkien’s sub-creation is similar to that in the Judeo-Christian narratives: the beauty of creation substitutes the Creator as the object of worship. Despite this introduction of evil, the Creator manages to thwart evil intentions by using them for His good intentions. By telling a similar and beautiful creation account, Tolkien rekindles worshipful feelings in his readers.
There are four main accounts of the creation in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Genesis account, God speaks creation into being, the only instrument of creation being His own voice (Genesis 1:3). God is the great Orator. In the Job account, the creative process is much more material and concrete. God lays out a foundation, determines measurements, stretches a line, sinks a base, lays a cornerstone (Job 38:4-7). God is the great Builder. In the John account, we see the repetition of God as the great Orator. The Word, who is later incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, is both God and the instrument of God’s creative process, as well as the life and light of men (John 1:1-4). In the Jubilees account, we see God creating those things and beings whose existence is not explained in detail in the other accounts: the heavens, the earth, the waters, and the angels (Jubilees 2:2). Neither instrument nor mechanism of God’s creative process is mentioned here.
In “Ainulindalë,” Eru Ilúvatar, the God of Tolkien’s mythology, thinks the Ainur into being. Ilúvatar is a great Sage. The Ainur are similar to angels or gods (in fact, the powers they are given later over creation are exceedingly similar to those given to angels in Jubilees 2:2). He has “kindled [them] with the Flame Imperishable (The Silmarillion),” the force for creative power, which is “with Ilúvatar (The Silmarillion).” He then declares musical themes to the Ainur, and they develop these themes. Ilúvatar is a great Conductor. Ilúvatar gives them a vision of their Great Music taking material form in Arda, which is Middle-earth. The vision does not actually come into Being, however, until they hear Ilúvatar cry “Eä!” and see Him “send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it [is] at the heart of the World, and the World [Is] (The Silmarillion).” Ilúvatar is a great Orator here as well, though His instrument is both His voice and His mysterious, creative force.
In all but one of these creation accounts, there is some instance of worship in which someone admires the Creator and His creation. In the Genesis account, God, being self-contained, “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).”
In the John account, there is a surprising lack of worship. Indeed, we actually see quite the opposite: His own creation fails to recognize Him and rejects Him, though one man is mentioned as a witness (John 1:6-11). In the Job account, however, the angels “saw his works and we blessed him and offered praise before him on account of all his works because he made seven great works on the first day (Jubilees 2:3)." Not only do created beings worship their Creator, they make musical worship in response to the display of His creative power in the act of creating. In “Ainulindalë,” Ilúvatar Himself declares music to the Ainur that He may “sit and hearken, and be glad that through [the Ainur] great beauty has been wakened into song (The Silmarillion)."
However, Tolkien’s sub-creation experiences a Fall much like that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, when the creation makes music as worship to itself rather than the Creator. “But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself (The Silmarillion).” Melkor was the greatest of the Ainur, because Ilúvatar had revealed more of His mind to him. He tried to use the Great Music to draw attention toward the beauty of his own music—though it wasn’t all that beautiful—rather than that which revealed the mind of Ilúvatar. Similarly, in Judeo-Christian text, Lucifer, the highest of angels who rebelled against God, Lucifer’s “heart was proud because of [his] beauty; [he] corrupted [his] wisdom for the sake of [his] splendor (Ezekiel 28:17).” Later, he tempted humans in the newly minted creation, beckoning the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:4-6).” In all of these cases, created beings esteemed their own beauty or the beauty of other created things higher than the beauty of the Creator.
However, the Creator weaves the corrupted theme into His Great Music, creating beauty even out of evil. As Melkor’s cacophonous music begins to gain power, Ilúvatar integrates his themes into His own, which is “deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came (The Silmarillion).” Later, when the Music is brought into Being, Melkor schemes extreme heat and cold into Arda, but that only brings Ulmo’s waters and Manwë’s winds into a beautiful, new relationship that produces beautiful, new wonders: clouds, rain, and snow. When Ilúvatar explains this to them, Ulmo cries, “I will seek Manwë, that he and I may make melodies for ever to thy delight (The Silmarillion)!” Ulmo knows that creation is ultimately worship to Ilúvatar. Similarly, God promises redemption through evil’s destructive intentions (Genesis 3:15). Joseph, one of God’s created beings, sums it up nicely: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19-20).” In a beautiful response to the introduction of ugliness, the Creator’s sovereignty and goodness thwart the erring worship.
Tolkien knew that science as far back as the heliocentric theory of the universe seemed to disprove the Judeo-Christian creation accounts, though he himself did not seem to accept them as completely literal or historical. Scientific advances have caused many people to become embarrassed of the narrative, so that they only begrudgingly believe. In a letter written to his son, Christopher—who would go on to edit and publish The Silmarillion—Tolkien wrote that, “In consequence they have indeed (myself as much as any), as you say, forgotten the beauty of the matter even 'as a story’ (Letter 196)." In “Ainulindalë”, he sub-created a beautiful reflection on that story. His account of the Beginning is so moving that even people outside of the Judeo-Christian faiths find it beautiful. Though this narrative isn’t explicitly musical, in his own way, Tolkien is worshipping the One Father of All by rekindling this admiration for the beauty of creation, both as a narrative and as an existence, in his readers. Tolkien’s mythology awakens in us an appreciation for the beauty of creation, which leads to worship of the Creator.

V. Camacho



Sources Cited:
Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jubilees 2:2 (ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985], vol. 2, pp. 55-57).
J. R. R. Tolkien, Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000; first published 1981).
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1985).

Godwin, Theophilus, and Amadeus: A Case Study in ‘True Names’

In a particularly poignant moment in The Notion Club Papers, Alwin Arundel Lowdham likens the dual naming of ‘Ëarendil’ in Avallonian and ‘Azrubel’ in Adunaic to “if a man could be called Godwin, Theophilus, and Amadeus” (Notion 241).  These three names, although they come from archaic English, Greek, and Latin respectively, all mean essentially the same thing: “Friend of God.”  J.R.R. Tolkien’s choice to include these examples of synonymy piqued my interest, as they stand in a unique position to illuminate his own views on the mutability and intrinsic nature of language.  These names serve as a perfect medium through which to investigate this, as proper names are the quintessential focus of debate on the validity of ‘true names,’ and their existence as actual secular names existing outside of a legendarium makes them relatable.  In exploring these names and others that Tolkien invokes, we can see a clearer picture of his own principles for characterizing language.

In reflecting on our in-class discussions, I was first drawn to the fundamental linguistic debate occurring in the background of Tolkien’s musings.  This debate on the meaning of names being conventional or natural goes back at least to the writings of Plato, and is nicely portrayed by him as such:

HERMOGENES:  I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers ‘Yes.’ And Socrates? ‘Yes.’ Then every man’s name, as I tell him, is that which he is called (Cratylus).

In this dialogue excerpt, the position of naturalism is espoused by Cratylus, who ascribes “truth or correctness” to names, while the conventionalist position is defended by Hermogenes, who sees names as nothing more than “that which he is called,” framing them thus as constructs dependent on a meaning ascribed to them.  This dichotomy carries on through the ages to modern linguists and writers.  We see the naturalist position manifesting itself with Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, wherein calling something by its ‘true name’ is what permits a wizard to exercise mystical power over it.  Conversely, the conventionalist position, as it can be seen in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess: A Historic Grammar of Poetic Myth and even contemporary academic publications, has become more codified in the disciplines of computational and comparative linguistics.  In applying these diverging linguistic opinions to the case of Godwin/Theophilus/Amadeus, we can reasonably assume that a classical naturalist would consider either one or none of these names to be a complete rendition of the absolute form of “Friend of God” as a concept, while a proper conventionalist might see these nominal distinctions as convincing proof for the relativity of meaning ascribed to names. 

With this linguistic background in hand, one can begin to isolate Tolkien’s own opinion on whether there truly are ‘true names.’  As a lauded and astute professional philologist, it is not surprising that J.R.R. Tolkien was academically committed to the conventionalist stance prevalent in his field; this is well-portrayed in a drafted letter to one “Mr. Rang” that shows both the breadth of his etymological understanding and his own assertion that he could apply his own meaning to words through linguistic construction (Letters 379-384).  That said, I would be hard-pressed to call Tolkien an orthodox conventionalist, as clues in his work indicate a much more unique vision of the importance of names.  Most importantly, Tolkien’s own conventionalism considers the significance of names as indicators of different relationships.  This trait was discussed extensively in class discussion, and can be noticed in Lord of the Rings throughout the various names given to Gandalf and Aragorn.  Some of these names simply convey similar meanings in different tongues (see ‘Tharkûn’ in Khuzdul and ‘Mithrandir’ in Sindarin), but many others embody the relational dynamics present between a character and others, such as the revelation of ‘Strider’ as a nickname of sorts, ‘Aragorn’ as a given name, and ‘Elessar’ as a royal title.  Each of these names is true in a deeper sense than is normally afforded by conventionalism, as each difference in name actually reflects the perfect form not of an abstract concept, but of a dynamic relationship.  Tolkien’s conception of conventionalism boasts one more unique aspect:  he does not recognize one singular ‘true name,’ but he does recognize the importance of a ‘first name.’  Examples of such original naming moments can be found in The Lhammas when the Valar bestow the gift of language on the newly-born Quendi, who in turn form their own words and variations not as devaluing mutations, but out of “love (for) the making of words” (Lost Road 184).  The importance of an original name of a thing, as if it were the seed of a language tree, does not invalidate the beauty and reality of the many names that spring out of it.

Returning finally to the case of Godwin/Theophilus/Amadeus, we can now see why J.R.R. Tolkien felt inclined to include this curious example in The Notion Club Papers at all.  I posit that this juxtaposition reveals the primacy of relationship in understanding language and names.  None of the three is imagined to be a more ‘true’ name than the other, but how we encounter them matters.  In order to even understand that the names relate to each other in shared meaning, one must first have enough knowledge of each (which could be seen as a linguistic relationship) to interpret them.  Furthermore, one could seem to be a more real name to an individual based on their personal relationship to it, as I am confident that someone given the birth name “Amadeus” would be unlikely to also consider himself a “Godwin” under any normal circumstance.  In the end, Tolkien unpacks all of this in a manner that not only shows differences in names as estimable, but also shows the immense beauty of the larger picture of interconnectivity and diversity in the relationship of languages.     

-C. Abbott  


Works Cited

Plato.  Cratylus.  University of Adelaide, 2016.  Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Lost Road and Other Writings.  Ed. Christopher Tolkien.  Ballantine Books, 1996.  Print.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000.  Print.