Random Tidbits The Letters of JRR T

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Apr 09, 2004 7:07 pm

Religion, history, philosophy

A small knowledge of history depresses one with the sense of the everlasting mass and weight of human iniquity: old, old, dreary endless repetitive unchanging incurable wickedness. All towns, all villages, all habitations of men – sinks! And at the same time one knows that there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible, beauties of word or deed or face – not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there. (Letter 69)

“If there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread assumption of our time; that if a things can be done, it must be done.” (Letter 186)

“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long ‘defeat; - though it contains some samples or glimpses of a final victory.” (Letter 195)

I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote, glittering white because of the individual ray from the Light which both held and lit it. And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God’s very attention itself, personalized. And I do not mean ‘personified’, by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of the human language, but a real (finite) person. (Letter 88)

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth. (Letter 43)

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effects because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane… - that this is indeed the how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course, I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy story; but I mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story. But since the author if it is to be the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made to Be, to be true on the Primary Plane. So that in the Primary Miracle (the Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden glimpse of the truth behind the apparent Anankê of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us. (Letter 88)

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. (Letter 142)

“In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before the Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as possible.” (Letter 183)

“In the Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and help worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was help to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world. So even if in desperation ‘the West’ had bred or hired hordes of orcs and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other Men as asllies of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their Cause would have remained indefeasibly right.” (Letter 183)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Apr 09, 2004 7:08 pm

So much for little chunks... :roll: oh well.
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Bnielsen » Sun Apr 11, 2004 12:14 am

we still appreciate it sam! after all, you have given this little corner of the web um, er... content... :twisted:
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sun Apr 11, 2004 10:40 am

Just wait until I type of Tolkien's opinion of the proposed American lotR cartoon's storyline.... It's hilarious! (No, not Bakshi, actually, but I'd love to hear Tolkien's comments on that!)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Jun 25, 2004 2:35 pm


Tolkien - His reactions to the ripple of sub-sub-creation he has caused

[responding to his publisher about a cat breeder asking to name some Siamese kittens with LotR names] My only comment is that of Puck upon mortals. I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Mordor, but you need not tell the cat breeder that. (Letter 219)

[criticizing a cartoon LotR - not Bakshi though] The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all. Above all he does not laugh or sneer… Z[immerman] may think that he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him. (Letter 210)

I should resent perversion of the characters… even more than the spoiling of the plot and scenery. (Letter 210) ((You LOSE, PJ!))

[on the cover of the American paperback of the Hobbit] I recognize that a main object of a paperback is to attract purchasers… but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale… could think such a picture would please the author…
Mrs. _______ [a representative of the paperback publishers] did not find time to visit me. She rang me up. I had a longish conversation; but she seemed to me impermeable. I should judge that all she wanted that I should recant, be a good body, and react favorably. When I made the above points again, her voice read several tones and she cried: ‘But the man hadn’t TIME to read the book!’ (as if that settled it. A few minutes conversation with the ‘man’ and a glance at the American edition’s pictures should have been sufficient.) With regard to the pink bulbs she said as if to one of complete obtusity: ‘they are meant to suggest a Christmas Tree’. Why is such a woman let loose? I begin to feel that I am shut up in a madhouse. (Letter 277)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Jun 25, 2004 2:36 pm

Tolkien - Interesting/Deep thoughts on the story

...It is only in reading the work myself (with criticisms in mind) that I become aware of the dominance of the theme of Death… But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a fainéant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt time. (Letter 208)


[The hobbits’] peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which [the Black Riders] inspire (like ghosts). They have no great physical power against the fearless; but what they have, and the feat that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness. The Witch-king, their leader, is more powerful in all ways than the others’ but he must not yet be raised to the stature of Vol. III. There, put in command by Sauron, he is given an added demonic force. (Letter 210)


The Ainur took part in the making of the world as ‘sub-creators’: in various degrees, after this fashion. They interpreted according to their powers, and completed in detail, the Design propounded to them by the One. This was propounded first in musical or abstract for, and then in an ‘historical vision’. In the first interpretation, the vast Music of the Ainur, Melkor introduced alterations, not interpretations of the mind of the One, and great discord arose. (Letter 212)


In Elvish legends there is record of a strange case of an Elf (Míriel, mother of Fëanor) that tried to die, which had disastrous results, leading to the ‘Fall’ of the High-elves. The Elves were not subject to disease, but they could be ‘slain’: that is their bodies could be destroyed, or mutilated as to be unfit to sustain life. But this did not lead naturally to ‘death’: they were rehabilitated and reborn and eventually recovered memory of all their past: they remained ‘identical’. But Míriel wished to abandon being, and refused rebirth. (Letter 212)

Being the greatest of all craftsmen [Aulë] tried to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. When he had made thirteen, God spoke to him in anger, but not without pity: for Aulë had done this thing not out of evil desire to have slaves and subjects of his own, but out of impatient love, desiring children to talk to and teach, share with them the praise of Ilúvatar and his great love of the materials of which the world is made. (Letter 212)

Frodo indeed ‘failed’ as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted. I do not say ‘simple=minded’ with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable. Their weakness, however, is twofold. They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget that strange element in the world that we call pity or Mercy, which is also an absolute requirement in moral judgment (since it is present in Divine Nature). In its highest exercise it belongs to God. For finite judges of imperfect knowledge it must be lead to the use of two different scales of ‘morality’. To ourselves we must present the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength (+ grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could achieve. To others, in ant case of which we know enough to make judgment, we must apply a scale tempered by ‘mercy’: that is, since we can with good will do this without the bias inevitable in judgments of ourselves, we must estimate the limits of another’s strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances.
I do not think that Frodo’s was a moral failure. At the last moment the pressure of the Ring would reach its maximum – impossible, I should have said, for anyone to resists, certainly after long possession, months of increasing torment, and when starved and exhausted, Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His humility (with which he began) and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy: his failure was redressed.
We are finite creatures with absolute limitations upon the powers of our soul-body structure in either action or endurance. Moral failure can only be asserted, I think, when a man’s effort or endurance falls short of his limits, and the blame decreases as that limit is closer approached. Nonetheless, I think it can be observed in history and experience that some individuals seem to be placed in sacrificial positions: situations beyond their utmost limits for an incarnate creature in a physical world… Judgment upon any such case should then depend on the motives and disposition with which he started out, and should weight his actions against the utmost possibility of his powers, all along the road whatever proved he breaking-point.
Frodo undertook his quest out of love – to save the world he knew from disaster… and also in complete humility, acknowledging he was wholly inadequate to the task. (Letter 246)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Jun 25, 2004 2:37 pm

Tolkien - on his works

Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem read. But it is true. An enquirer (among many) asked what the L.R. was all about, and whether it was an ‘allegory’. And I said it was an effort to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen sila lumenn’ omentielmo, and that phrase long antedated the book. (Letter 205)

A few years ago I was visited in Oxford by a man whose name I have forgotten (though I believe he was well-known). He had been much struck by the curious way in which many old pictures seemed to him to have been designed to illustrate The Lord of the Rings long before its time. He brought one or two reproductions. I think eh wanted a first simply to discover whether my imagination had fed on pictures, as it clearly had been by certain kinds of literature and languages. When it became obvious that, unless I was a liar, I had never seen the pictures before and was not well acquainted with pictorial Art, he fell silent. I became aware that he was looking fixedly at me. Suddenly he said: ‘Of course you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?’
Pure Gandalf! I was too well acquainted with G. to expose myself rashly, or to ask what he meant. I think I said: ‘No, I don’t suppose so any longer.’ I have never since been able to suppose so. A remarkable conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. (Letter 328)

I don’t feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian thought and belief. (Letter 269)

You speak of a ‘sanity and sanctity’ in the L.R. ‘which is a power in itself’. I was deeply moved. Nothing of the kind had been said to me before. But by a strange chance, just as I was beginning this letter, I had one from a man, who classified himself as ‘an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling… but you’, he said, ‘create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light form an invisible lamp.’ I can only answer: ‘Of his own sanity no man can securely judge. If sanctity inhabits his work or as a pervading light illumines it then it does not come from him but through him. And neither of you would perceive it in these terms unless it was with you also. Otherwise you would see and feel nothing, or (oif some other spirit was present) you would be filled with contempt, nausea, hatred. “Leaves out of the elf-country, gah!” “Lembas – dust and ashes, we don’t eat that.” (Letter 328)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by Sam Gamgee » Fri Jun 25, 2004 2:38 pm

Tolkien - The Catholic

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe and more, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His Face…
We should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for him, associating ourselves with the scandalizes not with the saints… (Letter 250)

The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect… Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! Only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to these products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (Letter 250)

But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning – and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again: but alas! I indeed did not live up to it… Out5 of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practise my religion – especially at Leeds and at 22 Northmoor Road. Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the ever-ceasing silent appeal of the Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger. (Letter 250)

[And i think i've mentioned it before, but once again, my favorite quote of all time...]
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth. (Letter 43)
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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Post by CanarioAB » Fri Jun 25, 2004 9:45 pm

Sam's on summer vacation ;)


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Post by Theremin » Fri Jun 25, 2004 9:46 pm

Uh ,yeah. :wink:
I gotta admit that I'm a little bit confused
Sometimes it seems to me as if I'm just being used
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise
If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

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Post by Bnielsen » Sat Jun 26, 2004 9:16 pm

Sam, thank you for these selections! They give great insight to the man that was behind the stories, and what his intentions were. Do you have a reccomended biogrophy of Tolkien?

On a side note, if you ever want to read a good biography of C.S. Lewis, pick up a copy of "Jack" It has some humourous bits about Tolkien and 'Inklings' meetings as well.
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Post by Sam Gamgee » Sun Jun 27, 2004 12:04 am

The best biography is the one written by his official biogrpaher, Humphery Carpenter. I've read part of it, but not actually the whole thing. (It's on my "To Read" list, but I have other things to read before more Tolkien...) But I have heard from another serious Tolkien lover that this is the best biography, though.
[color=#ff6600][i]Workings of man crying out from the fires set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing, his reaching so clearly[/i][/color]

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