Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

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Meneldur Olvarion
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Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

Attached is a paper by Verlyn Flieger I recently downloaded which goes into considerable detail examining and elucidating items which some people find contradictory in Tolkien's written works. A fairly good overview of what this paper details is exemplified in the following, which is of special interest to me because I wasn't aware of the Resnick-associated quote before:
 
Verlyn Flieger wrote: In 1953 Tolkien wrote to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, an old friend who had read a proof copy of The Lord of the Rings, that it was “fundamentally religious and Catholic” (Letters #142, p.172). Yet in 1966 he gave a quite different response to the interviewer Henry Resnick’s question about the meaning of the Company’s Dec. 25 departure from Rivendell, and the identification by some of Frodo with Christ. Tolkien’s answer was, “you don’t have to be Christian to believe that somebody has to die to save something,” and furthermore that [The Lord of the Rings] “was not a christian [sic] myth anyhow” (Resnick 42-43). What are we to make of such a blatant contradiction by one statement of another on the same subject?

(edit - moved the attachment here)
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Re: Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Lomelindo »

Hmmm... interesting. I don't think it's a contradiction because he was able to make it relatable to both Christian and pagan minds. It depends on how you look at it. I perceive and envision the Legendarium as having many layers of meaning, and one layer may be more pagan-like and another layer may be more Judeo-Christian-like... One can cherry pick these layers and say one of these layers is proof that Tolkien thought one way over the others but then there are the other layers of beliefs similar to Germanic pagan thought.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."
 
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Re: Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Lomelindo »

Ok now reading it. The first interesting bit I found:

Regarding Beowulf: One of the most memorable lines is a sentence in Anglo-Saxon: “lif is læne: eal scæceð leoht and lif somod,” (life is [a] loan; all perishes, light and life together) (BMC 19). So powerful is this statement that first-time readers of the essay not infrequently mistake it for a line from the poem itself. It is not. In his note on “A Spliced Old English Quotation,” Mike Drout has shown that this particular sentence does not occur in this form anywhere in Anglo-Saxon
literature. It is Tolkien’s own invention, made by combining two related ideas that do appear in some form or other in early English poetry. The first idea, lif is
læne, is a commonplace that pops up in various forms in such poems as The Wanderer and The Seafarer and Beowulf. The second comes from the Anglo-Saxon
poem Widsith, “oþþæt eal scæceð leoht and lif somod,” (until all departs, light and life together). Both are typical of what Tolkien called the Northern theory of
courage (BMC 20), but it was Tolkien who put them together.

Combined, these two sentences are greater than the sum of their parts. They proclaim the message that Tolkien found in Beowulf and restated a few pages later as “man, each man and all men, and all their works shall die.”

Also regarding so called contradictions. Sometimes there can be dialectical thinking where two opposing facts can be equally true at the same time. For example one can say that they love their family member but hates certain personality quirks such as loud chewing or stubborness. So I would love and hate this family member at the same time.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."
 
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Meneldur Olvarion
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Re: Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

Exactly! The paper says almost exactly this.

I was motivated to post it serendipitously after reading a number of recent newspaper articles - mostly on the coronavirus pandemic - claiming that "humans cannot tolerate uncertainty". I think if you replace 'humans' with 'Moderns' and add the phrase "and have very little patience", then the idea may be valid. Otherwise, it's mostly crap, in my view.

Re: Your post that just came in and the Beowulf quote: yes, that was interesting - I wasn' t aware before this that Tolkien had combined sources for that sentence.
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Re: Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Lomelindo »

Interesting here is the implication that Tolkien may have suffered from depressive episodes (which is perfectly understandable as a WWI veteran):

Here is part of what Murray wrote in response to the student’s reading of the “fundamentally religious and Catholic” statement I just referred to. Regarding this statement, Murray wrote, “Tolkien was a very complex and depressed man and my own opinion of his imaginative creation [The Lord of the Rings] is that it projects his very depressed view of the universe at least as much as it reflects his Catholic faith” (Murray qtd. in West).


What holds a keystone in place is not cement but friction, the grinding of the two sides against each other that only the middle prevents from destruction. It is the pressure of competing forces not against each other but against what keeps them separate—the keystone that holds the arch. It is these same forces that generate the curious power of Tolkien’s work. And it is these same forces creating this same friction that invite the disagreeing and debating Tolkien scholars and critics to find in Tolkien’s work what they are looking for.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."
 
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Re: Paper examining supposed 'contradictions' in Tolkien's writing (Verlyn Flieger)

Post by Lúthien »

It doesn’t surprise me the least that he contradicts himself in places. I actually would find it much stranger if he hadn’t.

People are complex, and JRRT probably more than average. He certainly modified his views many times, and that only indicates that he was receptive, intelligent, and much aware of the fact that any opinion (or theory) can never be more than just an approximation of the reality it refers to.

I’d distrust anyone who never changed their minds about anything ;)
A! Elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!
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