Unconventional Tolkien/






Unconventional Tolkien / Understanding Tolkien

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Understanding Tolkien   
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Some may call it irrational, some – subjective and yet others – a folly.
Who knows?! Some may even blame me for being ignorant!
In any case, I here present my personal views on some events, notions, issues, characters from the imaginary world of Tolkien, without claiming these to be some sort of a profound scholar research.

I like calling it an unconventional point of view.

This time - on:

Understanding Tolkien    

What does it take to understand an author? And I mean any author of whatever piece of art. Say two people stand in front of a panting by Picasso. One may be totally fascinated, while the other may shrug shoulders and say it’s ugly.

The same applies to Tolkien’s writings. He, being an author of outstanding pieces of fiction writing, cannot escape the fate of being commented on, criticized, paralleled, compared, approved or disapproved. In other words – put in the fire of the judging of the public. Some like him, others – don’t. My intention here is to reflect on why it is so.

Some say art is made for the public, so the society has the right to comment on what has been created for it. But it could also be said that any piece of any art was once created as a mirror reflection of the subjective ideology of an individual, who does not look for a back response from the public.

The fact that people get different opinions on one and the same piece of art comes from the subjective reflection of what an individual finds “familiar” in this particular artwork. And the “familiar”- aspect itself seems to me to result from the fact that each one of us lives in a separate, small, very individual and very own “universe”. Looking out from these individual “homes” of ours, we find certain things “familiar” and others – not; hence the first we accept as being true, so we tend to approve them, while the second as not being possible, not true and therefore we tend to disapprove of them. That’s the way human logic works out in most cases.

So it results that each individual perceives the world, including art, based on his/her own and personal understandings. And I am sure that the intellectual level of mind has nothing to do with being right or wrong about the qualities of a piece of art. It doesn’t really matter whether a person is a scholar or just an illiterate ignoramus to like or dislike an artwork.. Each person, when coming across a piece of art, “reads” it in his own way. To like an author and his creation does it really matter whether a person has spent years of studying this particular author’s art or someone, who has just had his “first encounter” with it? Each one has the right of a point of view. These might coincide or be polar-different. Yet, no one can possibly determine whose point is right and whose – wrong.

Applied to the author, on the other hand, all this is multiplied several times. For an author is an individual, who has the exceptional skills of expressing out what his own and individual perceptions of the world are. He puts these very personal views on the stand for everyone to see it.

Why, however, would an author want to do this? Does he look for an approval of his views and believes? It might be so. It may seem as an attempt of an individual to share his own very personal understandings with the rest of the units of the society because he thinks he is right. Yet again … Why? Why would he want to share?

The way I see it, is that in this case it maybe because an author is someone who seems to have come across a universal truth. But then, he cannot be sure whether this is really such a universal truth, so he decides to learn whether he’s right or wrong by showing it to the others and see whether they share his points of view. It maybe also because an individual wants to convey his points of view to the other individuals and make them see those truths the way he himself does.

On the other hand, however, art may be understood just as an attempt of an individual to simply show to the others what he thinks about the ways of the world without any need or intention of getting a back response or impose his own views upon the society. In other words – “I understand it this way! But I do not wish to convince you that I’m right!”

Based on these reflections on what art might be and the ways we perceive it, let’s turn to Tolkien as a creator of art himself.

Had he possibly come across certain universal truths and wanted to “check out” whether he was right? Or could have he created his mythical world as just being mythical - just a pure fantasy of a restless mind, a sort of a little "escapade" from his own “universe”? Could it only be a mirror-reflection of his individual mind without any aim of looking for approval by the society?

To ask questions of this type is a treacherous path to take. Because it’s easy to ask! The difficulty comes when we try to seek for the answers. For who can claim to be objective enough as to say “Yes” or “No” ?

Yet, stepping onto the ground of the theory of relativity, I am rather inclined to think that with Tolkien, the case is in fact bi-lateral. And this is precisely what makes him great!

On one hand, knowing the purpose of creating Middle-earth, as stated by J.R.R.Tolkien himself, it turns out that his initial intentions were strictly individual – his mind had been “haunted” by strange languages since his boyhood. Later, what he did was to just give these languages a world to be spoken into. This, in its own importance, is a great achievement, although something of a narrower significance because of being too individual. Meaning that by creating a world where his invented languages were spoken, Tolkien simply satisfied his own, personal interests. One could see it as the work of someone who was searching for ways to satisfy his own and very personal mental necessities.

So, on one hand, Tolkien’s fiction can be taken just as a way of communicating out his very personal and very individual imagination. No attempt of persuading the public. No intentions of imposing his personal views onto the common sense of the society. Roughly expressed, it might be understood like: “This is what my restless mind has hold for some time. I just wanted to let it come out. Take it or leave it! Like it or don’t!”

Well, in a way, it may be so. But I think such an understanding of Tolkien’s art is applicable mainly to the early stages of his work.

To me it seems that later, with the course of time and events in his life, Tolkien had come to the understanding of some very important issues, which I tend to call universal truths.

And from that point on, his art stopped being individual in the sense of strictly personal. It seems as if Tolkien had succeeded in coming out of his individual “shell” of existence, got able to lift himself up, very very high, and standing from there, he perceived some truths that were no more of simply individual essence and importance but rather very universal and applicable to all and everything. And what he did was to speak out of what he ‘saw” from “up there”. This time however it was because he wanted the others to see what he himself had seen and to understand what he himself had understood as something being universally true.

Now, that I find as an achievement of outstanding importance!

Yet again….it could be just the wisdom of the accumulated years of a human life….

However, as an example of this theory, I take the essay “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” with the amazing philosophical issues found there on the role and fate of the race of Men. To believe that such issues, discussed by two fictional characters, apply to their fictional world only, would be entirely wrong! If a Tolkien reader gets only such a narrow view on this particular piece of writing, it is to me an evidence of his unforgivable lack of willingness to even think about the existence of universal truths in our own, real world! I am almost completely sure, however, that each human individual with a normal sane sense has at least once in his life thought “What’s the purpose of me being born? What will become of me after death?” The mentioned essay could give answers! To understand it, it will just need one to shed subjectiveness off his own mind and try to “lift it” up to Tolkien’s level!

In fact, proofs for the above theory can be also drawn from quite many other pieces of Tolkien’s writings, such as the “Fall of Numenor” - another strong example of the attempts of the author to convey important, universally true issues about the essence and purpose of existence of the human race in the real world.

Have you noticed something? Reflecting on the importance of Tolkien’s art and how it can be understood, I am still not able to firmly decide for myself which of the two possible options of understanding his fiction is true. No wonder! I am just an individual with subjective points of view. How can I be sure whether I’m close to the truth?

Can you?

One is for sure – I am simply sharing thoughts. I don’t consider myself having come across a universal, hence an irrefutable truth about how to understand Tolkien’s art. I even don’t believe there is such an option! Hundreds of pages have been written in the attempt to find it out! I however, don’t see any reason for accepting the opinions of those researchers and reject my own understandings on this matter! Therefore, it is simply my own and very personal not binding perception of Tolkien’s fiction. But then again, I do have the right to this! For I am just “looking out” at his works from my “universe”. As each one of us does!

One may counter me, pointing out that Tolkien himself had frequently expressed his opinions on his own art. That, I think, could be a strong start…but not the whole road. For in the long run, the mythical world he had created seems to have obtained its own independence of existence and each reader who gets into that world tends to see it through his own subjective eyes. Can then the universal truth be found there?

The final decision I leave to you.

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