Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

as long as it's about gnosis
User avatar
Meneldur Olvarion
First Mate
First Mate
Posts: 1401
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:23 am
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Contact:

Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Sun Feb 10, 2013 4:31 pm

This is a repost of a short email conversation Luthien and I had last week.
[...] One of the key differences between modern and medieval is in the interpretation of miracles. Miracles were in keeping with the technical operations of the world, according to many medieval scholars, because of the direct role God and his assisting beings played in medieval cosmology. Augustine argued that the only true miracle was creation itself. What we call “miracles” and think of as events breaking with established order and bringing about the fantastic were considered unusual manifestations of God’s workings. In literary terms, saints were often described as interlocutors with God, meaning those who requested or triggered these events. This distinction is important in considering texts in the Middle Ages in the context of literary equivalents to modern speculative fiction: the religious mindset and its description of reality clearly moved the Divine and its evocation from the fantastic to the mundane. What this means in terms of equivalencies will be seen below, but essentially it means that works where the Divine is expressed are closer to the contemporary understanding of science fiction than to fantasy in terms of how they explore the universe.
-- From "Intersections of Age and Gender", "The Middle Ages" section

One of my serendipitous Google searches when I was processing several thought-threads at once. It's interesting because I have always thought that if one wants to be understood by the Moderns and classify Tolkien's works as "fiction" at all, then it belongs in the Sci-Fi category, not what is now meant by "fantasy" (e.g., Conan sort of stories about heroes with "massive thews" and "resourceful vixen" heroines and such-like -- I think they also refer to this genre as "Sword and Sorcery"). As an Animist, I also tend to see things via a similar "medieval" schema.

///Dave

From: Lúthien
To: me, Dineen
Date: Feb 4

That makes sense, because I've never felt even the slightest need to read any "Fantasy" such as you describe, outside of Tolkien (and Pratchett, though I feel that's rather just satire).

I've often leafed through those characteristic three-inch fantasy paperbacks (often coming in series of at least three volumes) but internally just blanked out ("hmmmm, ehh, .... Yes. I see. Right.")
I had a friend who, for some reason, referred to these books as "Urfenetuffle-Books" which I thought described them pretty well :)

Maybe I'm off, but I think they started with those books about those Neanderthal people? Anyhow, there must be thousands. But yeah, I've indeed always felt that Tolkien was another category altogether.

But I always have liked Science Fiction.

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:14 am

This indeed makes a lot of sense.

I was also thinking of a slightly different perspective. I've often wondered why Tolkien has always immediately fascinated me. Or maybe "fascinated" is not the right word even: read it as struck as true", made an infinitely deep impression on me, ... . Nothing I have ever read, or seen, or heard comes even close.
That goes especially for what's labeled "fantasy" though I must admit that I did not read a great deal of fantasy. But what I have seen from it by leafing through those two-inch paperbacks filled with swords and sorcery, (scantily) leather-clad ladies, dragons (and whatever the case might be) has never sparked a desire for more.
I have on occasion thought that that might just be a difference in quality and/or originality: that all these other fantasy authors were trying to piggyback on Tolkien's success and, of course, failed to reach his level.

But I don't think that's the core of the matter. It's something other than that. It's a bit presumptuous to say this when I have not actually read these other fantasy-trilogies (or better: 'n-ogies', for they always come in series) - but where these fantasy books are "fiction with dragons and magicians in it", Tolkien has written myths. Of course there are also dragons and magicians in Tolkien's myths, but I think that that's completely irrelevant. Take "Leaf by Niggle" which is, IMO, one of Tolkien's best and most transcendental works: no dragon in sight. Bicycles, paintings, grumpy neighbours .. but no magicians.

Tolkien's work offers (at least to those receptive to it) a glimpse of something beyond. Which is, I think, the true function of myth.

As Dave also points out, (some) present-day Science Fiction seems to be much more close to myth than Fantasy is.

I also keep thinking about a Dutch writer by the name of Tonke Dragt (Sarek may have read her also). The first book that I read of her, called Een Brief voor de Koning (A letter for the King) seemed to be quite heavily influenced by The Lord of the Rings - there was even a similar map in the book. But it did have a genuine "mythic" feel to it, which was equally present in a (juvenile) Science Fiction book she wrote titled Torenhoog en Mijlenbreed (Towering and Miles Across) and even much stronger in the hypnotizing tale De Torens van Februari (The Februari Towers).

The Februari Towers is about someone who finds a clue on how to enter a kind of mirror-world. This world can apparently only be entered on two days in leap years: February 29, and April 1st; and only if one is on a deserted place (such as an empty beach) at sunrise and speaks a certain word. It's one of the odd things that this word can never be described directly, but only very vaguely alluded to.
Anyhow, the protagonist somehow finds the word, and enters that other world.
The only thing is: when you move over, you remember nothing at all, and you can take only what you can hold in your hand. He only has a notebook, but he can't read what's written in it. The title of the book refers to two apartment high-rises, that have somehow also transferred to the mirror world. The mirror world is not a complete mirror of our world: it is less populated and less technological. High rises are not known, so they are a kind of ghost buildings over there. I think that the protagonist eventually finds an old man (nice stereotype huh!) in one of the apartments who helps him to understand his situation better, and eventually to find back the word that must help him get back home on April 1st - if he should not go back then, he has to wait another four years.

Anyhow, I found this tale extremely captivating and "magic", up to the point that I thought I could glimpse a sort of alternate reality in it even. I suppose that this tale might be called a "true Fairy-tale" in Tolkien's vocabulary: it offers a way to enter that realm.

User avatar
Meneldur Olvarion
First Mate
First Mate
Posts: 1401
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:23 am
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:33 pm

Lúthien wrote:[...] But I don't think that's the core of the matter. It's something other than that. It's a bit presumptuous to say this when I have not actually read these other fantasy-trilogies (or better: 'n-ogies', for they always come in series) - but where these fantasy books are "fiction with dragons and magicians in it", Tolkien has written myths. Of course there are also dragons and magicians in Tolkien's myths, but I think that that's completely irrelevant. Take "Leaf by Niggle" which is, IMO, one of Tolkien's best and most transcendental works: no dragon in sight. Bicycles, paintings, grumpy neighbours .. but no magicians.

Tolkien's work offers (at least to those receptive to it) a glimpse of something beyond. Which is, I think, the true function of myth.
I agree.

Most tribal animistic cultures do not have the Western cultural style rigid dichotomy between "sacred" and "secular"; rather, they live their lives enveloped in Myth (e.g., most Native American societies before and shortly after first contact with Explorers from Europe; or isolated tribes in the Amazon basin today).
[...] Anyhow, the protagonist somehow finds the word, and enters that other world.

The only thing is: when you move over, you remember nothing at all, and you can take only what you can hold in your hand. [...]
This part is nearly identical to a Salvia experience: once one is there, one has always been so and always will be and that is just the way things are. It's only as the Vision ebbs away (in a physical sensation quite similar to waves receding back into the sea when you've been swimming at the beach) that you realize, "Oh -- I'm back here. Dammit! The Other Place was so much more interesting."

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:56 pm

Hey, that last bit about the receding waves makes it very clear how that must be.

There's an English Wikipedia article about Tonke Dragt here.

User avatar
Meneldur Olvarion
First Mate
First Mate
Posts: 1401
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:23 am
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:34 am

Lúthien wrote:[...] There's an English Wikipedia article about Tonke Dragt here.
My Instant Translator Extension translates this as "Eyes of tigers": Ogen van tijgers

"Whut dis one be about?! Whut dis one be about?!" says Richard Parker. :-)

{Elanor has a Tiger hand-puppet that my sister gave to her for Christmas (well, actually Saint Nicholas Day, as Dineen wants to make distinct the Christian mmeaningof Christmas for Elanor, not run everything into one "Happy Holidays" as the secular Moderns do). Elanor always wants me to be the voice of Richard Parker, and since I do that every day, my shamanic fetch has sort of taken on that name.}

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:57 am

I don't remember "Eyes of Tigers" too well. It was a sequel to "Torenhoog & Mijlenbreed" (set in a near future).
It has a sort of ecological theme (the extinction of tigers) intertwined with how Venus was discovered to have a kind of pre-technological, very "wild" flora which seems to attack metals and plastics but appears to be harmless to humans. Not like the factual Venus, in any case.

I think "Eyes of Tigers" didn't appeal that much maybe because I was too young when I read it; or maybe it was a bit too "dark" to my taste. And possibly because it isn't as "mythic" as some of her other books.

I see she's still alive (born in 1930). Maybe I could write her a letter telling that I loved her books. I think she lives close by.

Re. Elanor: :) :)

User avatar
Mildir
Able Seaman (Veteran poster)
Able Seaman (<i>Veteran poster</i>)
Posts: 107
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 6:33 pm
Location: Italy

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Mildir » Tue Apr 17, 2018 8:31 am

Lúthien wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:14 am
I've often wondered why Tolkien has always immediately fascinated me. Or maybe "fascinated" is not the right word even: read it as struck as true",
May I take a guess ? :D
Is it possible that your mind (the thinking part of you) told you that it was just fiction, because the evidence that orcs/wizards/hobbits existed was nowhere to be found, while instead your heart (the feeling part of you) suggested that there was truth in all that ? :)
Many who read Tolkien happen to feel like that, I hear, and I think it's no coincidence, given that I saw some of that truth with my own eyes.

May I tell you something absolutely weird ? :D
My friend Lada Haldeson thought it was "illogical" how men who she'd met scoffed at the suggestion that orcs had existed.
"If they still existed, no one would think much of that, just like no one thinks much of atom bombs being ready to go off at any moment".
She told me the same illogical thing would have happened 30000 years ago in Middle Earth.
"If I had told someone from Gondor - or even Imladris - that I had seen a metal puncheon capable to raze an entire city in five seconds, they would have thought I were doing some blue sky thinking".
That's what she told me (approximately)... S)

Anyway, I too agree that Tolkien's work looks more like Sci-Fi than fantasy, just not the "Lord of the Rings" part...
Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil. (J.R.R. Tolkien)

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:12 am

Re-reading this topic after several years, I must admit that the idea that I have of "contemporary science fiction" is probably hugely simplified.
We had a stack of old SF paperbacks at home, which I all devoured when I was in my teens. They were mostly from the 'Golden Age': authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Clifford Simak, Jack Vance and the like. All good old 'hard SF', full of marvel and wonder and strangeness.

At a certain point, in the 1960's I think, there came a change: enter 'Soft SF', though it was hardly soft in my view. As far as I've been able to get through any of them, most of them were dark: obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios, full of people doing nasty things - and not a shrivel of marvel and true strangeness. I intensely disliked them, and I still do.
I've understood that the particular strangeness thrill that hard SF was aiming for is called sense of wonder. In Soft SF, there is no sense of wonder. Only a sense of Mad Maxian dreary bleakness. Why anyone would bother to read that is still beyond me; though I'll admit that maybe I'm just unable to perceive their quality.
Actually, I hope I am, because that'd be much easier to accept than the idea of so many people being obsessed with something that has no redeeming quality whatsoever :hmm: (but then again, consider the hordes that drool all over that fifty shades of grey crap :no2:

I've got to nuance that a bit though: I thoroughly liked the new Battlestar Galactica, for instance; it is much more mythological in nature, similar to what Tolkien wrote.
Mildir wrote:May I take a guess ? :D
Is it possible that your mind (the thinking part of you) told you that it was just fiction, because the evidence that orcs/wizards/hobbits existed was nowhere to be found, while instead your heart (the feeling part of you) suggested that there was truth in all that ?
Yes, that's exactly what it is.
Mildir wrote:]Many who read Tolkien happen to feel like that, I hear, and I think it's no coincidence, given that I saw some of that truth with my own eyes.
And you're not the only one ... :secret
A! Elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:17 am

btw, not sure if you (Mildir) know, but Tolkien did attempt to write a kind of SF story - though it's of course entangled with the rest of his Legendarium: The Notion Club Papers.
A! Elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!

User avatar
Meneldur Olvarion
First Mate
First Mate
Posts: 1401
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:23 am
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:45 am

Lúthien wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:12 am
[...]
Mildir wrote:May I take a guess ? :D
Is it possible that your mind (the thinking part of you) told you that it was just fiction, because the evidence that orcs/wizards/hobbits existed was nowhere to be found, while instead your heart (the feeling part of you) suggested that there was truth in all that ?
Yes, that's exactly what it is.
I'm an odd one here: I've never had that overarching 'disbelief' that one is supposed to suspend in order to properly enjoy a story. Rather, to me everything perceptible is an "instance of itself", so it is very easy for me to enter into a story. Now, if the story is not a good one or told wrong, I will "fall out of sync", but that doesn't seem to be the same thing as a preexisting disbelief (insofar as I can understand what is meant by that term). Then again, I also have some pretty strong protections against propaganda and general bullshit: I'm both pretty strongly scientifically oriented, and I have this natural talent to spot patterns in social aggregates, so it's easy for me to tell if someone is spouting some pop-cultural meme even if they aren't fully aware of it themselves (Luthien can probably verify this part).

User avatar
Lúthien
Captain
Captain
Posts: 1586
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:52 am
Location: the Netherlands
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Lúthien » Thu Apr 26, 2018 9:30 am

Meneldur Olvarion wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:45 am
I'm an odd one here: I've never had that overarching 'disbelief' that one is supposed to suspend in order to properly enjoy a story. Rather, to me everything perceptible is an "instance of itself", so it is very easy for me to enter into a story.
Exactly! Well, it’s the same for me, apart from that I experience a kind of split personality here. My ‘Imaginal half’ acts just like that, but my ‘rational half’ doesn’t. It doesn’t hinder entering in (any more), but it will oftentimes comment and question things afterwards.
Meneldur Olvarion wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:45 am
Now, if the story is not a good one or told wrong, I will "fall out of sync", but that doesn't seem to be the same thing as a preexisting disbelief (insofar as I can understand what is meant by that term).
It’s not the same. ‘Preexisting belief’ is about having accepted, and maintaining a specific and literal interpretation of how things are, usually because some authority says so (e.g.: “gay people shouldn’t marry because the bible says so”). This has got nothing to do with having any sense or even intelligence; only with strictly adhering to group norms.

What you are referring to is (like you said) about detecting the quality of a pattern. For instance, conspiracy theories tend to all feel similar because they are based on the same “bullshit template” that you can smell three miles away upwind. For instance: as soon as anyone uses the word “reptile” in the same sentence as “alien”, you can stop listening and go on to something more interesting: there’s no need to actually check out the whole story, which saves time.

Some of these "pattern checks" are pertaining to the content, but there are others. Pompous behaviour is one (Dave, remember that Alquonfea character?), as is compulsory spelling "your" as "thine" (that last one is somewhat joking, though, still ... :hmm: ). Screaming and flashing chaotic websites also hardly carry content that's worth much.
Meneldur Olvarion wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:45 am
(Luthien can probably verify this part).
Check :)
A! Elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!

User avatar
Mildir
Able Seaman (Veteran poster)
Able Seaman (<i>Veteran poster</i>)
Posts: 107
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 6:33 pm
Location: Italy

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Mildir » Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:44 pm

Lúthien wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:17 am
btw, not sure if you (Mildir) know, but Tolkien did attempt to write a kind of SF story - though it's of course entangled with the rest of his Legendarium: The Notion Club Papers.
I know it very well. :)
I'd have a lot of things to say about the NC papers, but I fear that saying them right now would be too much for most readers, at least until I find a way to explain more about my very abnormal life.
I hope to be able to talk about Arundel Lowdham, sooner or later.
Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil. (J.R.R. Tolkien)

User avatar
Mildir
Able Seaman (Veteran poster)
Able Seaman (<i>Veteran poster</i>)
Posts: 107
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 6:33 pm
Location: Italy

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Mildir » Thu Apr 26, 2018 1:28 pm

I just edited my previous post.
I realized belatedly that I was telling something too "big" to be understood unless many long and accurate explanations were given for it.
I hope I'll be able to write about this at length, because there is no other way to write about it, due to its "unexpectedness".
Lúthien: I'm sorry for this, feel free to delete these two posts of mine. When you mentioned the NC papers, that made me want to share a memory which I've been obliged not to share with anyone for my entire life.
But it wasn't the right way to do it and next time I'll think carefully before writing on instinct. :)
Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil. (J.R.R. Tolkien)

lysichitum
Mariner (New poster)
Mariner (<i>New poster</i>)
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:23 am
Location: California, USA
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by lysichitum » Wed May 02, 2018 12:30 pm

I too have always compared Tolkien's work with "good" sci-fi, rather than fantasy. Most fantasy seems like, as hinted above, bad attempts to mimic Tolkien. Frank Herbert and Ursula K LeGuin are the first two authors that come to mind as having 'created worlds' as deep and "real seeming" as Tolkien did. I am always on the lookout for more, if anyone here has a suggestion or two?

User avatar
Meneldur Olvarion
First Mate
First Mate
Posts: 1401
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:23 am
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Tolkien as "Sci-Fi"

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Thu May 03, 2018 12:45 am

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series deals extensively with the "eternal return" concept, as do consensus reality religions such as Hinduism, in addition to the Legendarium itself.

It's one of my favorite Sci-Fi video series. As for novels, I haven't read many of that genre for years, but maybe Luthien has some suggestions?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest