Lord of the Rings: what is it?

This discussion was created from comments split from: Is there a resurrection for cats ?.
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  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    And TBH I personally don't like hanging "Allegory!" signs on stories unless they're really allegories, like "Pilgrim's Progress". IMHO, LOTR and HP aren't.
    Yep. Neither Lord of the Rings nor Harry Potter are allegories, unless we’re going to suggest that Tolkien and Rowling constructed allegories without intending or realizing it.

    Yes, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Aragorn, Frodo, Harry and others are all in some ways Christ figures. (And in other ways, they are not.). That doesn’t make the entire stories allegories—indeed, it counters the idea, as there isn’t a consistent one-to-one correspondence anywhere.

    That both stories employ what might be called allegorical motifs from time to time does not make the stories as a whole allegories.
    mousethief wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    It’s pretty much the Orthodox view, as I understand it.

    It is AN Orthodox view. The "River of Fire" view, in which God's love is like a river of fire, and whether or not you feel it as love or as fire depends on your relationship to God. (This is vastly oversimplified but I hope the idea comes across.) It's probably the most popular Orthodox view about life after death. But I don't believe it's the official Orthodox view. I don't know that there is one of those.
    Thanks, mousethief, and apologies. I should have know it’s an, not the. (I think you might have corrected me before.) I’ll try to remember better.
    My gracious, the shade! The shade of it all!

    The way I see it, dogs and cats fulfill different needs.

    Dogs are the guardians of the material threshold, cats are guardians of the astral threshold.

    IMO dogs are for people who need to experience what it feels like to receive unconditional love. IMO cats are for people who need to experience what it feels like to give unconditional love.
    I really like these ideas. Thanks!
    I really admire people who have one or more of each. Those people are really special.
    :blush:

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Indeed, Tolkien made it very clear that LOTR was not allegory.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 17
    Yes, he did - but it doesn't mean that the meaning isn't there. Tolkien was a devout Catholic and there are profound Christian themes and symbols in TLOTR. It depends on which level you read the story. Frodo's farewell speech to Sam about sacrifice is the most Christlike message you can read in fiction.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited March 17
    Rublev wrote: »
    Yes, he did - but it doesn't mean that the meaning isn't there. Tolkien was a devout Catholic and there are profound Christian themes and symbols in TLOTR. It depends on which level you read the story. Frodo's farewell speech to Sam about sacrifice is the most Christlike message you can read in fiction.
    That’s all true. But that doesn’t make LOTR an allegory; there is no level at which it can properly be read as an allegory.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    If you read TLOTR as a Christian allegory you find there are multiple parallels.

    The characters are rather stereotyped - there are allegories of Christ including Aragon, Gandalf and Frodo (and Sam - also a Ring Bearer). There are allegories of Judas like Saruman, Wormtongue and Gollum. And there is an allegory of Satan in Sauron.

    The story takes the form of a journey or mission in which Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo all fulfil their destinies as they were 'meant' to do with a set of chosen companions - who are later scattered.

    There is a spiritual battle between good and evil taking place both externally and internally. Frodo endures temptation. Denathor succumbs. Boromir, Theoden and Pippin are redeemed.

    The Christian values of loyalty and self sacrifice are key themes of the story.

    There are overtly Christian dialogues expressed by Frodo (on self-sacrifice), Aragorn (on maintaining good judgement in bad times) and Gandalf (on the need to pity Gollum). Tellingly all three of them are characterised by their pity for others.

    The Passion Narrative dominates the Return of the King (as well it might). The journey up to the Crack of Doom becomes a road to Calvary for Frodo with the Ring as the Cross. (He bears the wounds of his redemptive quest into the next world). Meanwhile Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead and harrows Hell for the oath breakers. And Gandalf the Grey is resurrected from the dead or 'sent back' as Gandalf the White 'until my task is done.'

    What more evidence do you want, we wonders, yes we wonders ?
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Are we perhaps confusing allegory and symbolism? Allegory is when the literal level of meaning corresponds systematically to the figurative meaning. Symbolism is when there is no systematic correspondence. You can rewrite an allegory as the figurative story, though you lose a lot if the allegory is any good. If it's symbolic the figurative level doesn't have the same coherence. If you can point to several different characters who symbolise Christ then it's not an allegory because it's not a coherent figurative story.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    If you read TLOTR as a Christian allegory you find there are multiple parallels.

    The characters are rather stereotyped - there are allegories of Christ including Aragon, Gandalf and Frodo (and Sam - also a Ring Bearer). There are allegories of Judas like Saruman, Wormtongue and Gollum. And there is an allegory of Satan in Sauron.

    The story takes the form of a journey or mission in which Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo all fulfil their destinies as they were 'meant' to do with a set of chosen companions - who are later scattered.

    There is a spiritual battle between good and evil taking place both externally and internally. Frodo endures temptation. Denathor succumbs. Boromir, Theoden and Pippin are redeemed.

    The Christian values of loyalty and self sacrifice are key themes of the story.

    There are overtly Christian dialogues expressed by Frodo (on self-sacrifice), Aragorn (on maintaining good judgement in bad times) and Gandalf (on the need to pity Gollum). Tellingly all three of them are characterised by their pity for others.

    The Passion Narrative dominates the Return of the King (as well it might). The journey up to the Crack of Doom becomes a road to Calvary for Frodo with the Ring as the Cross. (He bears the wounds of his redemptive quest into the next world). Meanwhile Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead and harrows Hell for the oath breakers. And Gandalf the Grey is resurrected from the dead or 'sent back' as Gandalf the White 'until my task is done.'

    What more evidence do you want, we wonders, yes we wonders ?

    It's a nice pastiche but for me, no.

    Gollum is not a Judas character. How do you square that with the fact that at the final moment, Frodo was unable to make the sacrifice, and it was Gollum who paid the ultimate price?

    Frodo's mission was all along to unburden himself of something terrible that only he could carry, and which in the end he didn't have the final nerve to surrender. He finally understood why he enabled his shadow-double Gollum to persist: because even the worst part of us serves a larger purpose that remains opaque to our view until hindsight places it in its proper perspective.

    This doesn't square with anything traditionally Christian from my way of looking at it. In fact it reads more gnostic than canon to my way of thinking but's that's probably because that's the lens I view realty through.

    If you place the narrative in its proper context of the arc of the Silmarillion, then Aragorn's resumption of the throne of Gondor is merely an historical footnote in a narrative that reads more like a Valentinian creation myth than a gospel parallel.

    Tolkien might have been a Catholic but I don't read anything Catholic in his work. I struggle to read anything even remotely Christian in it. CS Lewis' Narnia is allegorical. Tolkien's Middle Earth, well, IMO not so much.

    AFF





  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    C. S. Lewis specifically said that the Narnia books were not allegories.
    They were fantasies about what it would be like if a Jesus-figure came to a planet of talking animals.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Tolkien in a more obvious RC mode: the wonderful short story "Leaf By Niggle".
    (:yipee:)
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Are we perhaps confusing allegory and symbolism? ...
    It seems so to me.

  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    Thanks, Golden Key! I love :heart: that story! I hope that those who haven't read it before will enjoy it, too.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    You're welcome! I find it very comforting, and sensible.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Rublev,what you have set out are themes and symbols and not allegory. And I can't see any parallel between The Return of the King and the Passion Narrative. Frodo was not going to be executed and always held out hope (fading as the quest advances) of returning to The Shire. I particularly cannot see the opportunity given the oathbreakers to restore their honour as paralleling the harrowing of hell.

    Unlike AFF, I see Christian themes throughout much of Tolkien's writing, particularly LOTR.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    And Gandalf the Grey is resurrected from the dead or 'sent back' as Gandalf the White 'until my task is done.'
    Gandalf isn’t exactly resurrected; he is, as you say, “sent back.” When one reads The Silmarillion and other of Tolkien's writings, it becomes pretty clear that Gandalf (Olórin) is akin to what we’d call an angel.
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Are we perhaps confusing allegory and symbolism? Allegory is when the literal level of meaning corresponds systematically to the figurative meaning. Symbolism is when there is no systematic correspondence. You can rewrite an allegory as the figurative story, though you lose a lot if the allegory is any good. If it's symbolic the figurative level doesn't have the same coherence. If you can point to several different characters who symbolise Christ then it's not an allegory because it's not a coherent figurative story.
    This. LOTR draws heavily on Christian and Catholic themes and symbolism, but in a way that is not allegory.
    Tolkien might have been a Catholic but I don't read anything Catholic in his work.
    It’s definitely there, but in many instances it’s woven in very subtly. Again, when one reads The Silmarillion, some of those themes and that symbolism is made a little more obvious.

    Tolkien purposely avoided anything explicitly religious, as LOTR is supposed to be this world millennia ago. In essence, the world of Middle Earth is pre-Christian, and he didn’t want to set up a religious framework contrary to Christianity.
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Tolkien might have been a Catholic but I don't read anything Catholic in his work.
    It’s definitely there, but in many instances it’s woven in very subtly. Again, when one reads The Silmarillion, some of those themes and that symbolism is made a little more obvious.

    Well I'm willing to be persuaded.

    I read the Silmarillion about once a year. More often than I read the Bible, I'm afraid.

    Where do you see the similarities?

    AFF

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Thanks, mousethief, and apologies. I should have know it’s an, not the. (I think you might have corrected me before.) I’ll try to remember better.

    Not in the least offended. Cheers.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    You know it's not an allegory of the gospel if there are multiple Christ figures. The gospel only has one.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    That's what makes it so interesting. The end of TLOTR abounds with Resurrection motifs - the finding of the White Tree, the wedding and coronation of the Returned King Aragorn and Arwen, Sam planting trees up and down the Shire, the birth of Rosie, bumper harvests in the Shire - the image of the Peaceful Kingdom restored at last.
  • I'm not sure Arwen saw it that way.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    What I have always wondered about in TLOTR is why Gandalf entrusted Frodo with the task of destroying the Ring at Mount Doom when he had already seen that Frodo was unable to throw it into the fire at Bag End.
  • This has nothing to do with whether LOTR offers insights into the resurrection.

    Arwen's fate brings Left Behind more to mind.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 18
    Well it's interesting that the task has to be carried out incarnationally and all the figures of power (Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel) refuse it because it would corrupt them.

    Arwen sacrificially divests herself as an act of kenosis out of love - and to restore the kingdom for the sake of humanity.
  • Which still has nothing to do with resurrection.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I think the resurrection did have to carried out incarnationally.
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    KarlLB wrote: »

    If there are cats in heaven they're looking at God and thinking "what's he doing on my chair?"

    Dogs meh. Never really got the point of them.

    What, seriously? Never heard of a dog who helped blind, or deaf, or disabled humans? Who alleviates loneliness in nursing homes, or promotes wellbeing and recovery in hospitals? Who saves lives in the snow, or recovers bodies from earthquakes? Who detects drugs at airports and ferry terminals? Who help catch criminals, prevent crime? Even to a non dog-lover the utilitarianism of the dog's collaborative relationship with humans and our environment is pretty much a given? At the very least, most of us have probably benefited from medication which some poor beagle has 'tested' for us.

    Think you're right about the cat and the chair thing, though!
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    I think the resurrection did have to carried out incarnationally.

    If this isn't the fallacy of the excluded middle it's awfully damn close.

    Arwen's sacrifice was carried out incarnationally.
    The resurrection was carried out incarnationally.
    Therefore Arwen's sacrifice was an allegory of the resurrection.


    That's a really low bar. Pissing is carried out incarnationally.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Anselmina wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »

    If there are cats in heaven they're looking at God and thinking "what's he doing on my chair?"

    Dogs meh. Never really got the point of them.

    What, seriously? Never heard of a dog who helped blind, or deaf, or disabled humans? Who alleviates loneliness in nursing homes, or promotes wellbeing and recovery in hospitals? Who saves lives in the snow, or recovers bodies from earthquakes? Who detects drugs at airports and ferry terminals? Who help catch criminals, prevent crime? Even to a non dog-lover the utilitarianism of the dog's collaborative relationship with humans and our environment is pretty much a given? At the very least, most of us have probably benefited from medication which some poor beagle has 'tested' for us.


    There's a difference between knowing academically the uses dogs are put to and "getting" them the way people who actually keep them seem to. I don't get the pleasure of having an animal try to lick you - indeed, I find that very unpleasant and dogs seem to always want to do it*. I don't want an excuse for a walk in the woods if I have to spend half of it carrying a small bag of shit around with me. I don't want to have to remove turds from the lawn on a regular basis. They just don't seem worth the effort and inconvenience.

    *I find it hard to believe I'm the same species as people who let their dogs lick their faces....
  • balaambalaam Shipmate
    I have lived with dogs through all my childhood and I understand that by licking your face a dog is more likely to be saying "I want to play" than showing affection.

    However dog owners who insist I let their animal lick my face can...

    ... this is not Hell.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    edited March 18
    Dogs play with teeth. They learn that humans can’t do the same and play in different ways with them. Dogs love to lick and taste everything.

    Dogs which lick faces haven’t really learned appropriate play and interaction with people.

    I’ve had many dogs and have a puppy every year - none have licked me on my face, or anywhere else.

    Why would anyone insist their dog lick you @balaam - very odd. 🤔
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Apart from any other reason, licking faces is a way of showing subservience.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @mousethief

    Arwen's sacrifice represents kenosis. It is not an allegory of the resurrection - at the end of the story of Aragorn and Arwen she dies.

    But the life, passion and crucifixion of Christ are all incarnational - otherwise you are following the docetist heresy. That's why the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is fundamental to Christian orthodoxy.

    Frodo is an unlikely choice of hero and protests against it but in the end he accepts the task of his own free will. Gandalf argues that Sauron will not expect a plan of such vulnerability. Frodo's Farewell Discourse to Sam on self-sacrifice is a reflection upon John 15: 13, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    I know all this. It has fuck-all to do with whether LOTR is an allegory, however.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 18
    I think Tolkien was aiming at creating a mythology in TLOTR. And Frodo is a Christ like figure at the centre of the story. The mysterious choice of a humble hobbit to oppose the power of Sauron's evil reflects 1 Cor 1: 28, 'He chose the lowly and despised things of the world.' Which is why Frodo succeeded where Isildur failed.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    I think I am tired of this tangent, based as it is upon a misconception regarding the nature of "allegory."
  • mousethief wrote: »
    I know all this. It has fuck-all to do with whether LOTR is an allegory, however.

    Or to do with the resurrection, of cats or other creatures.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 18
    @mousethief

    I think that a writer has more freedom than that. Tolkien created a new genre in TLOTR - just as the four evangelists did in writing the gospels. The power of a story goes beyond its form. On the question of the resurrection we can see that the subject material almost transcended the ability of the writers to describe. So Matthew and Luke develop upon Mark. And John offers further reflection than the Synoptics.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    I think that a writer has more freedom than that.
    More freedom than what? Tolkien, the writer of LOTR, said LOTR is not allegory. You nevertheless say it can be read as allegory. Others have pointed out that you seem to be confusing allegory with symbolism.

    Whatever new genre Tolkien may have created, that new genre is not—according to Tolkien and according to standard definitions—allegory.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Let us fulfil all righteousness in our definitions:

    A story is an account of people and events told for entertainment.

    A symbol is a thing that represents something else.

    An allegory is a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.

    Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe.

    A myth is a traditional story explaining a phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings.

    You might need the classification more than Tolkien did.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Let us not, when discussing literary genres, accept what the Google dictionary says as representing the understanding of practitioners of the craft.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I don't think that practising writers feel themselves to be at all constrained by their genres. I think that genres are an attempt to map onto the thought world of the writer. But in the case of one so creative and original as Tolkien they have limited applicability.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    I'm willing to take him at his word. I believe you should, also, since you seem to hold him in high regard.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited March 18
    Rublev wrote: »
    Let us fulfil all righteousness in our definitions:
    The idea that one should start by defining one's terms is one of the worst fallacies that essay writing has given to the world. Definitions of terms given in essays are usually wrong, frequently polemical, and, as such, almost never consistently adhered to.
    A story is an account of people and events told for entertainment.
    I don't see what 'for entertainment' has got to do with it. In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest tells the story of how Jesus broke the bread and the wine; I don't think I'd say they do so for entertainment.
    An allegory is a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.
    Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory if anything is an allegory. I would hardly say that a story which starts off with a character called Christian fleeing the City of Destruction with a sack called Sin tied to his back has a hidden meaning. In fact, I'd say that in so far as any non-literal meaning of a story is hidden, the story is not an allegory. The point of allegory is not to be hidden.
    Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe.
    I think you're mistaking generic fantasy of the post-Tolkien kind for fantasy as a whole. Metamorphosis (Kafka), A Hundred Years of Solitude, and Nights at the Circus (Carter) are fantasy. I don't think any are meaningfully set in a fictional universe.
    A myth is a traditional story explaining a phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings.
    I'm not sure it need necessarily be explanatory. What does Thor's visit to Utgard-Loki explain? Even where a myth has explanatory elements I don't think they're always the main point.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @mousethief

    I do take him at his word. Tolkien said that 'the tale grew in the telling.' The Hobbit started out as an adventure story for his children but he realised that it was only a fragment of a much greater narrative arc that he had in his mind - the mythology of Middle Earth. As an Anglo Saxon scholar he drew heavily upon Christian Anglo Saxon literature for inspiration - and upon his own Christian faith. He doesn't work out his climax like a Greek tragedy as he would if he was drawing upon classical mythology. The Christian themes of redemption and self sacrifice are very prominent and clearly shape his narrative to a conclusion that underlines the importance of those themes.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @Dafyd

    The gospels are a unique genre in their own right - as already noted. They are the teaching or revelation of Christ and clearly for instruction.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Let us fulfil all righteousness in our definitions:

    ...

    An allegory is a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.
    Nope. There’s more to allegory than that.
    Rublev wrote: »
    @mousethief

    I do take him at his word. Tolkien said that 'the tale grew in the telling.'
    He also vehemently rejected the idea that his writing was allegory, and given his training and areas of expertise, I’m willing to believe he knew what is and isn’t allegory.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    If you would sooner argue about the definitions of literary genres rather than explore the unique mind and creative insights of Tolkien then I think you are very much missing the point about TLOTR. But each to their own I suppose.

    Tolkien was a gifted writer capable of moulding genres to serve his own purpose rather than allowing them them to dictate his form to him.

    But he was not a full time writer. He was an academic who was strongly criticised for writing books about hobbits rather than philology. His friend C S Lewis was strongly criticised for writing Christian apologetics. British academia has never been very tolerant of religion. Tolkien may well have had matters at stake.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Rublev, I don’t think anyone has denied the unique and creative mind of Tolkien. I certainly never would. And most have agreed that Tolkien’s work is infused with his Catholicism and with Christian themes and symbolism. That’s not what people are taking issue with.

    What people are taking issue with is characterization of Tolkien’s writing as allegory. Allegory is a specific literary genre. Pilgrim’s Progress squarely fits within that genre. LOTR, for all of its Christian themes and symbolism, does not, as Tolkien made very, very clear.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    If you would sooner argue about the definitions of literary genres rather than explore the unique mind and creative insights of Tolkien then I think you are very much missing the point about TLOTR. But each to their own I suppose.

    Who posted a whole post defining literary terms? Hmm, let me scroll up and see. Oh yes. It was you.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Rublev, I don’t think anyone has denied the unique and creative mind of Tolkien. I certainly never would. And most have agreed that Tolkien’s work is infused with his Catholicism and with Christian themes and symbolism. That’s not what people are taking issue with.

    What people are taking issue with is characterization of Tolkien’s writing as allegory. Allegory is a specific literary genre. Pilgrim’s Progress squarely fits within that genre. LOTR, for all of its Christian themes and symbolism, does not, as Tolkien made very, very clear.

    I'm sensing that this message is incapable of being received at this time.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    A writer of genius like Tolkien is not confined by the rules of the genre. They redefine the genre instead. He wrote his books for himself and his sons. He didn't write to a formula like a commercial writer but the story unfolded as he wrote it down.

    I think there are 3 options for interpreting TLOTR:

    (1) Read it literally as a fantasy fiction story set in mythological Middle Earth.

    (2) Read it as a Christian allegory of the ultimate triumph of good over evil - and the human cost of it.

    (3) Read it as a disguised autobiography of Tolkien using a fictional world to explore his experiences and reflections of being a young man caught up in the horrors of the Great War and seeking to find a deeper meaning in it.

    Or all of the above.
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