Sunday, December 16, 2012
Was Tolkien Only Writing About Symbols, Divorced From Meaning?
There is no political symbolism or Freudian symbolism intended. There is no political or Freudian meaning behind the symbols. Nor is it a key novel - or a "novel with a key" - which at least Mr. Vajda thinks is how Pushkin and Gogol wrote their fantasy. As for the "Nose" by Gogol, I think he even makes a point. At least for main story of that book, how he retells it. So there is no individual events or situations meaning behind the symbolism either.
Then neither is that necessarily the case in all of Dostoëvski. The criminal with a revolutionary excuse - like Raskolnikov - is not a way of saying something against this or that Revolutionary in 19th C. Russia. It's a way of saying something about Revolution. As such. As one things humans can do in face of injustice and should not do. There is plenty of such symbolism in Tolkien's work.
Tolkien was certainly into the sign - but in Saussure sign means the unique combination of signifier and signified. And that is how Tolkien enjoyed language learning as well. He would not have enjoyed Welsh so much if "afon" had meant earth or fire rather than something about water (river, I think). Or if "glas" had meant white rather than green grey. Or if "cwm" had been birch rather than valley. It says so when he speaks of his pleasure of learning Welsh in that beautiful essay on Welsh and English.
It is very much implied when he is in anguish about whether a bird shall in Sindarin be "aew" or "oew". He listened to a thrush which he imagined as feeling insulted about "oew", so he took "aew". He was very much into the Cratylus side of language.
And if he took into account how word and meaning affect each other when taking words and sounds from real languages, we can be sure he meant to say something about crookishness as such whenever he protrayed a crook. Saruman and Gríma, Gollum and the Orcs discussing Elvish Tricks are as much real types of crookish behaviour as Pug and Gumpas.
And similarily about heroism.
One can even imagine him discussing after the lesson about Beowulf and someone saying to him "you know, if Beowulf is noble and Grendel is a monster, that is because Beowulf had a good upbringing and was welcomed and is son of a king, whereas Grendel is an outcast". And he wrote the difference between Gollum and Aragorn - who are both of nobility (hobbitish and human) and are both outcasts (remember how Aragorn is bullied about by the innkeeper Barliman Butterbur and nearly cannot make it to the hobbits). He is making a very valid point that character determines what choices we have as much as situation does.
And about Simplicity and Sophistication. Even a very sophisticated person like Gandalf (who can low smokering through smokering and another and a third ring through those already sent up to some twenty, how is that for sophisticated!) can be very ill at ease with over-sophistication, like that of "Saruman of many colours." And a very simple person like Sam (who is sophisticated enough about ropes and gardens and cooking) helps Frodo in a way that a very sophisticated person like Denethor does not.
Edward Vajda said that anyone can put any contemporary evil, religious or secular, whatever he considers evil himself, into the role of Sauron or Saruman.
People can (if they are dumb enough) consider antiabortionist young earth creationists as "stupid enough to amount to real evil", but they can hardly get very much support from Tolkien's descriptions of the Two Towers of evil. That is not stupidity going evil by a refusal to bow down to knowledge. That is knowledge going evil by a refusal to respect the rights of simpler folks and by a refusal to respect the rights of the Creator.
So, anyone reading so to speak "the Apocalypse according to Tolkien" (and both Lord of the Rings and Akallabeth are in a way a kind of fan fiction to the Apocalypse "at the end of the thousand years the devil was released" in Apocalypse 20 or for that matter its counterpart in Genesis 6: "And the earth was corrupted before God, and was filled with iniquity.  And when God had seen that the earth was corrupted (for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth,)" ...) will hardly look at the apparently least sophisticated persons or systems for the role of Antichrist.
An ideology of knowledge, control, and if knowledge does not give enough control for the controllers, of redefinition, like redefinition of good and evil, redefinition of rights and slights fits very much closer with what Saruman stood for in LotR or Sauron in Akallebeth. Tolkien even makes anyone fighting on the right side but with that attitude (Denethor, Boromir) a real threat of committing treason against the right side.
And that is in a way what one can expect from a Christian author. Does the success even among non-Christians say sth about the "anima naturaliter christiana"?
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
What I wrote against:
wwuniversity : J.R.R. Tolkien's imaginary languages - by Edward Vajda, WWU Linguistics Program
Appendix A: I have elsewhere argued that the difference between Tolkien and Dostoëvski while studying good and evil is that Tolkien makes the painful struggle readable by adding Hobbitry and therefore comedy. In a way, it is what Homer did. The Iliad adds the Olympic gods as comedy - take away those and you end up with something like Bronze Age (the comic book), which is breathtaking (like Crime and Punishment), but if you do have to stop read, you do not like to get back soon because it was unpleasant. Homer and Tolkien avoid that. In Odyssey it is more like men standing for comedy - and gods for providence, and that comes closer to Tolkien's work.
Appendix B: Professor Edward Vajda made people snicker a lot when it came to believing that Tolkien though he used so much in traits of for instance Turkic languages as model for black speech, it has nothing to do with saying something about Turkic peoples. Of course, Tolkien would, if asked, have said that the Osman Empire was an evil thing, in as much as it was directed at agressing Christendom (or for that matter habist like slave hunt, yanitchar recruiting, suicide of unsuccessful commanders on order of dissatisfied sultan, harem of same sultan ...), but that does not imply anything about Turkmenistan, where also Turkic languages are spoken. Even in Celtic languages Tolkien finds harsh sounds. Ring is nasc in Irish and from there it was only a voiced cluster from Slavonic languages to make it nazg. He wrote that he found Irish people very nice (they are Catholics like he was) but its language unattractive to his language aesthetical taste. Balrog is in Quenya Valarauka - with Vala for power but rauka for demon. And rauka comes closer to German word for smoke "Rauch" and one English word for stench "reek" < "reac" <"*rauk-" than it does to Russian rog. I think he underestimates in general the capacity to stand back from immediate news and mundane actualities - maybe because he does not consider it a good quality as such. PS, Cirth as plural from Certh is not a Semitic Ablaut plural, it is a Welsh Umlaut plural. If it had been Cereth with two syllables and long first e, it would have been plural Ceirith - recognisably Sindarin, as the word indeed is. So, similarily, a short e makes an i in plural: Certh - Cirth.
Appendix C: Tolkien's point about an imaginary world is that fiction especially in the Romance tradition whether in Odyssey or in Huon de Bordeaux or Sindbad or Puss-in-Boots are not really in the world we live in ourselves. Tintin's world has a Syldavia and a Borduria in Europe. Zenda is in Ruritania. Sherlock Holmes' London includes an adress which has later been built as a Sherlock Holmes museum, as well as (thanks to Shakespear) a visiting Duke of Bohemia. Ariosto has a geography and chorography around Gerusalemme Liberata not quite identical to the then geography of the Holy Land. Tolkien did not invent this approach, he saw what it was good for and used it.
Appendix D, on Gollum: Yes, there for once Tolkien comes close to modern ideas about drinkers and cantankerous men. It may be partly due to psychiatrists finding the personality so powerful that they have got a habit of "smelling out Gollum" in people - and it may be in part due to the partially Methodist upbringing the Tolkien orphans had. Though a Welsh-Spanish Padre was their legal guardian, and they were Roman Catholics, they also stayed with relatives of this not-quite-Catholic religion.
Appendix E, Pushkin: His cat which is tied and symbolises and artist too tied to tradition may have inspired a certain cat that is way too free - even from itself - so as to disappear. Cf. Lewis Carroll. Modern Art makes Cheshire Cat Artists. From grinning cat to grin without even a cat around it.