The Notion Club Papers - an Inklings blog
The Notion Club Papers (NCPs) is an unfinished (posthumous) novel by JRR Tolkien. The Notion Club was a fantasy version of The Inklings. My overview of NCPs is at: http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-companion-to-jrr-tolkiens-notion-club.html. I was winner of the Owen Barfield Award for Excellence 2018.
Thursday, 1 June 2023
The trade-off between life and works: Legolas, Gimli and the stones of Minas Tirith
Tuesday, 23 May 2023
Tolkien's On Fairy Stories audiobook, from the Catholic Culture Audiobooks website
A few days ago, I stumbled across a new unabridged audiobook version of JRR Tolkien's seminal essay On Fairy Stories, published on the website of Catholic Culture Audiobooks.
The superb performance is by voice-actor James W Majewski; who really seems to understand what he is reading, so that it is expounded with great clarity. Even better, he reads at a measured pace yet with a quietly-passionate intensity that revealed the essay to be - itself - one of Tolkien's greatest works of imagination.
I have read and re-read OFS more times than I can count (including the annotated scholarly edition); yet, I felt I had never really grasped it before, never recognized that it was so highly wrought, while also having originated in Tolkien's deepest well-springs of creativity.
Monday, 15 May 2023
The perilous necessity of seeking enchantment
I have been re-reading that most inspiring of essays: On Fairy Stories, by JRR Tolkien; and considering the need some of us feel (in the 'modern world') for enchantment.
Tolkien describes how this can be found in the best of Fairy Stories - or what we nowadays, since Tolkien's essay, term 'fantasy' literature.
But what of 'real life' - of our lives outside of fairy stories? What of our disenchanted mundane lives? Is there any kind of 'cure' for disenchantment - something in-addition-to our leisure-time and recreational immersion in artistic recreations of faery?
What should we do when we awaken from the enchanted realms of a fairy story, and find-ourselves back in the mundane world?
Such questions are the basis of the 'romantic' impulse; and for people such as Tolkien (and myself, and many others) they are unavoidable and compelling matters; they are matters of life and death.
We can try to ignore or drown-out the 'horns of Elfland' - the call of enchantment - but we will always be comparing our actual lives with the possibilities experienced in 'fairy stories'.
For us, the prospect of life stretching ahead is intolerable without enchantment; so it is not a matter of whether we pursue enchantment; but how.
Yet, as Tolkien often emphasizes; this seeking of an enchanted mortal life is perilous; just as true faery is perilous. He frequently depicted this - most explicitly in Smith of Wootton Major, most pessimistically in his poem The Sea Bell; and it forms the background motivation to the embryonic plot of The Notion Club Papers.
The fundamental problem is that mortal Men in this world cannot attain any Good with permanence - because that is the entropic nature of our-selves and the world; and from the fact that such joys are subject to 'habituation'/ tolerance/ fatigue - so that they cannot be sought directly and repeated 'stimuli' (use of symbols, rituals, or exposure to art-works) will decline in effectiveness.
Many have tries to create for themselves an enchanted life; all have failed - in the end we are up-against our own corrupt and limited natures.
Many, many people have ended up in the tragic situation depicted at the end of The Sea Bell; unable to forget, yet unable to attain, 'faery' - and finding no consolation in 'the world'.
A Christian can and should be consoled by the ultimate prospect of resurrected life in Heaven; which is (as Tolkien makes clear at the end of his essay) the only possible actuality of that which we glimpse in faery. It is resurrection that makes the quest for enchantment a matter of truth rather than delusion.
Yet, that still leaves the problem of how we structure our earthly lives in the years ahead... indeed in this day, and this moment...
A further problem is that the consciousness of Modern Man has developed so as to become so resistant to enchantment - that there seem to be many people who claim not to experience it, not to want it.
And there are others who (whatever they may they claim) seem never to experience any kind of enchantment; but instead seem (so far as I can tell) to live disenchanted lives; to the point of being hostile to the whole idea - and regarding any taint of romanticism is childish, insane or evil.
Sadly, many self-identified Christians are of this aggressively disenchanted type: the kind of Christians who regard any whiff of faery, magic, romanticism as indicating the stench of Hellish brimstone (and who regard Tolkien himself as one of the devil's party).
I say 'sadly' - because, despite that the quest for enchantment may be personally tragic; not-to-want it at all, and to regard enchantment as stupid, malign of delusional, strikes me as a kind of self-maimed half-life.
I cannot help feeling sorry-for such people - even when they are frustrating or maddening to deal-with.
My best positive suggestion, that I have discussed many times before on this blog; is to apply some of the lessons of Owen Barfield's concept of Final Participation - which I have further analyzed into concepts such as Primary Thinking and heart-thinking.
In particular; the idea that - instead of seeking an overwhelming and immersive experience of enchantment, of faery, such that we hope to experience 'being there', inside that world -- we may choose to seek to participate-with such a world in the realm of purposive conscious thinking.
Instead of (mentally) lowering-our-selves-into enchantment, instead of sinking-into a dream-like realm; we might instead aim to rise-above the mundane: to weave our conscious thinking with thoughts of (experiences from?) faery.
This Final Participation is not a final answer; because there is none on this side of death; but engaging with an assumed living and potentially present realm of faery is something that lacks some of the problems of the more usual attempt at 'travelling'-into/ dwelling-within faery - not least because it is immune to that loss-of-effectiveness that plagues all attempts to lose-ourselves.
With the Final Participation idea; we do Not try to lose our-selves or our awareness of this-world - but aim instead to remain our-selves; indeed to expand and strengthen our-selves as we encounter enchantment; which can be done by aligning our motivations with that which is Good in faery.
Such is difficult because it is a creative activity; and creating just-is difficult. Also because it entails the discernment of what is Good in our-selves and 'the enchanted' - and working-from that.
But - however difficult, intermittent, and only-partially-successful, is such a creative endeavor; it is nonetheless something that provides a very deep level of satisfaction, and a potential for profound learning.
So, Final Participation in faery seems like a valid Life Quest for those of us for whom a 'romantic life' is a fact of our natures.
Monday, 24 April 2023
Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? An invited guest post by commenter WW
Orc actually means “demon” in old English, and so language, as something Tolkien used as the foundation for his stories, might give us the first clue, or at least a sense of ‘permission’, that exploring this line of thinking between demons and orcs might not be completely without merit.
To understand the basis for this belief, I would first reference Mormon theology and creation myth. In writings known to Mormons as “The Pearl of Great Price”, Abraham is shown a vision of the state of affairs leading up to the creation of this earth. In that vision, he sees two groups of beings: Souls and spirits. The souls I take as being those with bodies (this being consistent with the definition of a soul in other parts of Mormon teachings). Regarding the spirits, I am unsure as to whether they may have had bodies prior to when Abraham sees them. As such, I wouldn’t be able to say at this time whether they had always been spirits, or at some point also had bodies and through events and circumstance found themselves without them. Regardless, it seems at the time of the creation of the earth they were spirits.
Among the embodied souls were those named “Noble and Great Ones” (which Abraham was told he had been a part of) who were tasked by God to be 'rulers' for the spirits and, as I take it, learn from and work with God to bring about the salvation of those spirits. Part of that commission was in the creation of this world for those spirits to inhabit. How that played out, I think, is very similar to what Tolkien wrote of in the Ainulindale, and in my own thinking I use his terms - Valar, Maia, and even the Eldar/Elves, etc. - to describe the different groups of the embodied individuals who assisted with that creation. I will note, but won’t expand here in the discussion of demons and orcs, that among the Valar were the lead Powers known as the Aratar, or “Noble / Exalted Ones”, which correlate to Joseph Smith’s Noble and Great Ones just mentioned, and which Abraham was a part of (although obviously known by a different name).
Unlike these Great Ones and other bodied individuals, the spirits, however, would not have directly participated in this creation. They would ultimately incarnate here as Men, and their non-participation in the creation of this earth may be one reason why Elves and other beings noted that they seemed strangers to it.
Just as in both the Ainulindale and in Mormon teachings, Satan-Melkor rebelled and sowed discord prior to and during earth’s creation, launching a ‘war’ or conflict in Heaven, and ultimately drawing away a significant number of beings to his cause. These followers of Satan-Melkor would have consisted of both other embodied souls as well as spirits. In the case of previously embodied ‘demons’, Balrogs would be an example, as would other power-seeking Maia like Sauron.
As for the spirits who followed Satan-Melkor, these would have become demons also and it is these, specifically, that I believe were incarnated as orcs once Melkor found a way to make this possible.
It is important to note here that what a being became leading up to this point was a result of their choices. God did not make good and evil beings (or any beings at all), but rather through their own choices and agency, already-existing beings became or revealed themselves as good or evil actors. In other words, demons, at least at first, actively made choices that turned them into such. I say at first, because in the making of their choices, they also turned themselves into slaves-servants of Satan-Melkor, and thus were left with very little choice at all in the end but to remain in that state, with no hope for repentance – at least in this story. There may be other stories and some other creation for them, but not here.
It is because of this lack of choice and state of slavery they found themselves in, that I believe once Satan-Melkor chose to incarnate and become part of this creation, the Demons would have no choice but to also follow their master and aid him. When he called, they had to come, even if they would have wished not to incarnate on this earth at all. It was not their choice to make.
Drawing again on Mormon theology, it would appear that the bodies that housed Elves and Men were originally created with 'enmity' or protection that prevented evil spirits from being born into them. As in, only the Children of God (Men and Elves) could be born into the bodies that had been created for them.
Thus, Melkor could not simply take these bodies as they were and put his own followers into them. If one of his objectives was to bring his servants into this earth with him (and I believe it was), he would need to find another means to do so. Having no original creative power himself, he would need to rely on his ability to take already-existing creation and twist/ mar it into something fit for his purpose.
As Tolkien relates, Melkor imprisoned and tortured Elves and Men from the very beginning, and although not known exactly how or ever consistently resolved by either in-story characters or out-of-story guesses or communications by the author and others (to my knowledge, at least), it seems clear that these actions in some way resulted in the orc.
One line of thinking has been that these orcs were literally the identities or spirits of Elves and Men twisted to Melkor’s service through this torture and entrapment. My own view, and one of the main assumptions underpinning this post, is otherwise.
Rather, this twisting actually involved Melkor taking these bodies created for Jesus-Eru’s children, and finding a way around the ‘enmity’ or original protection designed into them. Thus, perverting God’s initial creation to be suitable to house his demon slaves.
To say more clearly, he would have used the bodies of Elves and Men he captured to conduct experiments on how to get around the protection, using his ability to twist and corrupt matter and creation to his purposes, which was to have bodies/ vessels for his slaves to use in joining him in this creation.
He could not, however, design the bodies to have the same fair form as Elves and Men. The changes required would have had to be too radical to preserve that. Rather, these orc-bodies would have had to be marred and twisted to such a degree as to be differentiate significantly from the original creation, not ever to be confused with it. Where the bodies for Eru’s children were for joy and happiness, even though marred and fallen to some extent, the orc-bodies seemed miserable, meant for pain, fear, and hate.
How Melkor was able to accomplish this great perversion and thus house his demon followers would not be known today, for good reason. Through the first three ages of the world, it seems that once ‘created’, orcs were able to procreate just as Men and Elves did and thus provide a natural means for demons to incarnate on earth. Sauron and even Saruman were able to accelerate, expand, and modify Orc proliferation to their own ends even after Melkor was banished, probably relying on some knowledge of his dark arts to accomplish this, with added experiments of their own, perhaps.
Specifically, Sauron’s involvement in these dark arts may be why he was referred to as the Necromancer in the Hobbit and LOTR. Following the War of Wrath, it seems the orcs were largely eliminated, or went underground/ into hiding. The reemergence of Sauron seems to have been strongly correlated with the reemergence and building of the Orc hordes, perhaps due to his direct involvement and carrying over the practices learned from his former master.
As a quick tangent, and not to overly complicate things, Sauron’s necromancy also may have involved rehousing the spirits of evil Men into various physical forms and bodies. These would not have been orcs, however, or really demons, but rather Men who chose evil and became Sauron’s servants. The King’s Men of Numenor, becoming the Black Numenoreans, would be included. Perhaps the Mouth of Sauron was just such a being, an evil man housed unnaturally and given long life as a result in Sauron’s service.
In any case, in the years following the 3rd age and the War of the Ring, the orcs were made extinct. With no orcs left to create other orcs, and with Melkor, Sauron, and Saruman all gone, there was no knowledge left, apparently, on how to start again and create bodies to re-house their spirits. This is why we would not expect to see demons in bodily form today, but only experience them through spirit-mind afflictions.
Since they were not born as Men, and have no path of being so, these once-embodied demons have no hope of a resurrection, since that is the path that Jesus-Eru set.
One test or approach Bruce suggested to assess the possibility of whether demons were once orcs was to compare the morality and behavior of orcs (from what we can read) with that of demons. It is a good suggestion. My sense in doing so, is that we should expect to find some inconsistencies, however – perhaps significant ones – along with some consistencies.
An explanation for why might lie in assessing our own behavior and situation as mortals on earth.
It is likely (in my opinion) there is a 'core' to ourselves - our own being and personality - that persists through time and various transformations but may be altered (sometimes significantly) depending on the bodies we take up and circumstances we come into. Therefore, demon/ orc behavior and morality may have also altered with them taking on bodies, and so one wouldn't expect that their behavior to be perfectly consistent between their spirit and embodied states.
In other words, we, as fallen Men, might in many ways be unrecognizable to our former (and future) selves were we to see ourselves in those states, and so the demons who became orcs might have been altered similarly during their mortal experience, particularly with being subject to pain and all other things a body brings. As noted earlier, theirs does not seem to be a particularly happy experience, obviously, perhaps both due to the nature of their spirits but also the nature of the cruel bodies that were made for them to take on.
In further assessing and (in my case) dismissing whether orcs were actually just as Men and Elves, but corrupted, there are some hints within the text of the LOTR itself. As one example, there is an interesting dialogue between Treebeard, Merry, and Pippen, that may shed some light, or at least give us a window into Treebeard’s understanding of the origin of orcs.
In the dialogue, Treebeard suggests that orcs are counterfeits of elves, created by the Enemy, just as Trolls were counterfeits of Ents. But in saying this, Treebeard states that Trolls were never Ents, don't possess their same strength, etc., and so one might infer that elves are referred to in that same sense. A cruel mockery of God's initial creation, but not actually the beings of Elves turned into orcs, which wouldn't be referred to as merely a counterfeit, but rather as the real thing corrupted.
Additionally, one would need to ask that if the orcs did procreate as Men and Elves, and were also comprised of a spirit with a body, then what spirits are they? I can't imagine that Eru would have allowed any of his children or the spirits aligned with good to be forced into those bodies. They would have had to come from somewhere else, and existing hordes of demon-spirits/ Melkor slaves may be the best solution as to what, then, would be expected to be housed in these bodies. Meaning, Melkor, and later Sauron and Saruman, would have had to draw from an already existing pool of evil spirit-slaves (made slaves due to their choices before this creation, as mentioned before) to support their orc armies.
Lastly, and not happily, I suggest that while the orcs are relegated to spirit-only forms now, there may, in fact, still be embodied demons here on (or within) earth, and so we aren’t left with a completely house-less demon horde to deal with. In saying this, I do not think it would be many – perhaps only a couple/ few. These beings would be known as Balrogs, I suppose, and would have been driven to or found hiding in the deep places of the earth, similar to the Balrog that the Fellowship encountered in Moria. I have no other insight into this than my own experience and intuition, and so this is probably the most speculative notion (of an extremely speculative train of thought!).
I view the current orc-demon-horde as largely mindless servants of evil. With Melkor and Sauron gone, however, they may still operate under the direction of these embodied evil beings in hiding, and thus what we see on display in our own world is the influence of these Balrogs – who are very aware and cunning - spreading through their demon-spirits hordes and into the minds of Men. Concentrations of demonic influence in our current world might actually serve as clues as to where these Balrogs are located physically and/ or the topics, concerns, and strategies on which they are largely focused (and which may and probably do differ between, and sometimes conflict with, other Balrogs / Demon leaders).
There are happier topics to think on, obviously. And I guess in some ways one really only wants to take this so far as to understand the nature of the evil one is up against, and no further if not absolutely necessary. That is the approach I have tried to follow. So, while I definitely would hope for clarification, correction, or confirmation on much that I have written and guessed at here, I would hope it continues to be in the context of a much larger and better story about the Good forces and powers at work, and our ultimate redemption.
Note from author WW:
In exploring this possibility, I have drawn on the stories and mythologies of Tolkien’s Legendarium and Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, for lack of better descriptors. There may be other ways to understand these things, but these are languages and stories that I am most familiar with and so that is what I have used.
This is also a part an ongoing work of imagination at this point for me, but imagination meant to help me understand reality. As such, I am not arguing that what I write here is necessarily true, but it does reflect my current understanding of how things may be. I am also not arguing that Tolkien or Joseph Smith intended these interpretations, or even considered them, in their writings. So please take this post in that spirit, and I would expect there to by a wide range of opinions on this matter, as nothing I find is definitive, and my train of thought is speculative. My own views and guesses continue to evolve, and some of what is written here will most likely be wrong. But, there is potentially enough right to not throw it out completely.
I also have not really been focusing on orcs or demons in my own thinking up to this point (for good reason), so much of what I try to summarize here is based on or gleaned from efforts focused on other, more ‘positive’ topics. This is another reason that some details about orcs here may not be completely right or some of my assumptions and conclusions thought through as well as they ought to have been.
Saturday, 22 April 2023
Review of Inkling, Historian, Brother: A life of Warren Hamilton Lewis, by Don W King, 2022
Don W King. Inkling, historian, brother: a life of Warren Hamilton Lewis. Kent State University Press: Ohio, USA, 2022. pp 300.
I am delighted to read a biography of CS Lewis's beloved brother 'Warnie'; coming fifty years after his death; long after I had resigned myself to being permanently starved of detailed information on this most warmly genial participant in the Inklings club.
I have read and re-read the published 1982 selection from Warnie's superb journal Brothers and Friends, until my copy fell to pieces and I had to buy another. What appealed was the eye for detail rooted in a gift for getting the maximum of enjoyment and appreciation from the small things in life; coupled with a natural gift for supple and memorable prose (of a completely different flavour than his brothers).
But the fact that Brothers and Friends never went into a second edition suggested to me that there was little interest in Warnie among the reading public. Nonetheless; I read everything I could find about him, and even contributed a tiny publication to the literature; but I was curious for more.
I was not disappointed by Don W King's book; and devoured it over just a couple of days. It fills in all of the 'gaps' of things that I most wanted to know.
I was especially interested by the details of Warnie's military service in the regular army, throughout and after World War I.
I would, however, dissent from King's evaluation of Warnie's 18 year army career as successful. I am struck by the fact that he retired with the rank of Captain - having not been promoted the next step to Major throughout his last 15 years of service (as would have been expected, I believe).
From Warnie's attitudes - expressed throughout the journal and letters quoted in this biography and elsewhere - I would infer that he performed his military administrative roles adequately, but no more - because he aimed for no more than that. From quite early on, he was essentially treating the army as a job; so he was aiming at the easiest possible lifestyle within the externally-imposed constraints, and culminating in an early retirement at age thirty-seven (i.e. as soon as an adequate pension had accumulated).
It was not until after he was recalled from the officers reserve in 1939 at the start of WWII that Warnie was given the 'acting', then honorary, rank of Major by which he is known among Inklings scholars; a title which he used thenceforth in civilian life.
(The convention in Britain was that retired officers should only use their rank as a civilian title, for ranks of Major or higher - i.e. not for Lieutenant or Captain.)
Another aspect of Warnie's life which is well described here, is his inland sailing in the narrow boat Bosphorus. This turned out to be a more important activity than I had realized - with Warnie spending anything from a quarter to a third of the year afloat in the middle 1930s.
These experiences also led to his first writing for publication, with several extended essays on aspects of buying and maintaining such vessels, and navigating inland waterways. From the excerpts and summaries provided by Dr King; these were very well written and full of interest - despite the extreme level of detail (eg accounting and diaries) which he incorporated.
Again, it was Warnie's spontaneous personal enjoyment of these 'small things' which was communicated to the reader.
I also enjoyed some further information on the January walking tours that Warnie took with Jack in the same era - between retirement from the army and the outbreak of war in 1939. These are among the best passages in the selection in Brothers and Friends, and more information in summary (but not Warnie's prose!) can be found in Joel Heck's CS Lewis chronology.
I personally would have appreciated even more detail and even more quotation from these walk diaries; especially considering that they were regarded by Warnie himself as among the high points of his life.
Short of paying a personal visit to the archives in Wheaton College, Illinois (which I doubt will happen) I don't suppose I will ever see all the material on this matter. But perhaps I can hope for a more generous selection from the diaries to be published somewhere, at some point.
A further excellent aspect of this biography is the detail concerning Warnie's history books about 17th century France - especially in the reign of Louise XIV. I don't have take any pleasure in this era and place, but I have read the first of these volumes, and found it very well done - elegant and memorable.
It was good to know of the other volumes in this series; and of how well the books (especially the early ones) were received by historians and newspaper critics alike. It is a fine achievement - especially considering that Warnie had no university training, and did not become an historian until his late middle age.
In evaluating Warnie as a man; I believe that King has done a good job. Warnie's great character flaw was his alcoholism - he was of an archetypical Irish type of an intermittent but very extreme binger; periods of moderation or teetotalism, punctuated by drinking constantly and in large amounts for several days until he required hospital admission.
Alcohol also brought out and amplified the worst aspects of his character; avoidance of unpleasant duties, self-indulgence and snobbery. These traits were not apparent when he was relatively or absolutely sober; most of the time completely submerged by his personal considerateness and 'good manners that were so personally attentive and kindly as to be outstanding, even remarkable.
Warnie seems to have been sad, even a depressive, throughout life - and although he had a few good friends, it was his brother Jack that formed the focus of his love. Dr King describes this as 'dependence' - perhaps because it was a source of pain as well as joy; but I find this to be unpleasantly reductionist: great love does induce 'dependence'.
This leads on to a consideration of the faults and limitations of this book; because it is, throughout, prone to 'explain' Warnie's (and Jack's) characteristics in 'Freudian' terms. In other words, to explain personality in terms of childhood experiences (rather than, for instance, in terms of heredity); and to use concepts such a 'repression'.
For instance, Warnie's apparent - relative to Jack - lack of extreme and lifelong distress over the death of his mother when he was thirteen, is regarded as repression; and posited as a cause of later attitudes. Such unfounded speculations are so common among biographers, that they obscure the fact there is essentially zero positive evidence (and considerable counter-evidence) that there is any such thing as 'repression'.
Dr King does not seem to reach a clearly stated conclusion about the vexed question of the personality of Mrs Moore - and whether Warnie's negative descriptions and dislike of her are warranted or unreasonable. However, King does explore the issue very thoroughly; and he provides all the material necessary for a satisfactory understanding - especially in light of some recent revelations that 'solve' this longstanding 'mystery'.
My take is as follows: Living with Mrs Moore was - overall - fine for several years; but, due to senility, she progressively deteriorated first in personality, then in cognition, until it became a continual and worsening torment - both for Warnie and Jack too.
But this situation was exacerbated by the fact that Jack absolutely refused to acknowledge, or even discuss, the matter with Warnie; but instead behaved towards Mrs Moore with an absolute obedience showing neither debate nor dissent at her increasingly unreasonable behavior and demands.
Warnie was left to deal with this situation in complete solitude and without support; and found the whole thing incomprehensible, and deeply hurtful; but he never knew the reason for it. And this was probably a major life stress that contributed substantially towards the worsening alcoholism of Warnie's later years.
We now know that Jack had originally had a sexual relationship with Mrs Moore, but this had ceased when he became a Christian; after which Jack felt he had wronged her (by the sexual relationship, especially since she was still legally married to Mr Moore), and (in summary) Jack determined to do a penance of looking after her in every way (without complaint) until she died.
This Jack told to Owen Barfield, who told Walter Hooper - who only revealed it in 2009 - and it became public only after Hooper's death. But, importantly, Jack never shared with Warnie the history of his relationship with Mrs Moore, or the nature of his vow to look after her.
I do not know why Jack decided to keep these facts from Warnie (I see no sign in any of Jack's writings), but I have little doubt that the lack of this information harmed Warnie in ways that I think Jack never realized. Jack seems not to have realized how badly the situation in The Kilns affected Warnie; or that it might have been ameliorated had the brothers been able to discuss things.
To conclude; Don W King's biography is a boon to fans of Warnie, and a book for which I am very grateful.
Its main 'fault' is that it is not twice as long - so as to include even more of Warnie's own words.
But perhaps Dr King will at some point be encouraged to extend his publishing endeavors on behalf of CS Lewis's 'older, but less famous, brother'?
Implications of the truth that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion
I was always struck by CS Lewis's hardline attitude to happiness or self-gratification in relation to Christianity - the way he emphasized the problem of mixing-up the 'therapeutic' aspect of belief with the business of what is actually true.
In the Screwtape Letters and Great Divorce (as well as his more abstractly theological works) Lewis negatively depicted people who fluently excused whatever they wanted to do - what they currently enjoyed doing, or what made them feel better - by making arguments that linked these to Christianity.
In the Narnia chronicles; this was encapsulated in the phrase stating that Aslan (i.e. Jesus) is Not a Tame Lion. That is to say; Christianity cannot be comfortably domesticated and stay Christian.
Certainly it is a real problem; but - especially in The Last Battle - Lewis also depicted the opposite problem, which happens when the cruelty and destructiveness of the evil demon Tash is explained as being the actions of Aslan; or later, the oxymoronic false-invention Tashlan, syncretized from both good and evil deities.
These actual evils - in reality motivated by greed, selfishness and sadism - were effectively propagandized as consistent with the fact that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion
And therefore the fact that God is not aiming at our immediate self-gratification is twisted into a mask for 'the devil'.
In other words; on the one hand it is true that, at a superficial level of here-and-now, the goodness of God may be experienced as harsh life-lessons that are, nonetheless, necessary for our ultimate and eternal benefit.
Yet, on the other hand, to know when this is actually the case, and when evil outcomes are instead a product of evil intent; requires honest discernment as to the motivations.
So, the experienced and observed miseries and sufferings of this world are not evidence in either direction - they might be necessary and temporary means to a good end; or they might be the end in itself: cruelty, destruction, misery, suffering might be the actual purpose of evil beings.
The correct answer must come from discernment, and the discernment - while taking-account-of-evidence, cannot derive-from evidence.
As always, we are driven down to an acknowledgment that all knowledge depends on intuition; an individual act of an individual being.
And, further, that Christian discernment entails acknowledgement that there is a side of Good (i.e. God) and a side of evil (i.e. the demons). We first need to know this in order to choose one or the other side; and only by choosing a side can be - even in principle - make a discernment as to whether a particular event was motivated by good or evil intent.
For a Christian; to deny that good and evil are separate and opposite sides, amounts to the false-deity of Tashlan - in other words, to base discernment on an assumption of unity, oneness, 'non-dualism' is itself (merely) a type of evil.
From this analysis we can see that Christianity is related to self-gratification (i.e. the pleasurable, comfortable, desirable) in that God wants us to be deeply and eternally happy; but such a goal entails that we must sometimes be temporarily and superficially miserable.
To know what is going-on in the here and now we need to depend on divine guidance - which (because God is The Creator, is Good, and is our loving parent/s) we have all been equipped-with.
We all have potentially available both direct access (i.e. in our stream of thinking) to true inner guidance (because we have within-us something of the divine, being children of God)...
And this inner guidance also enables us to have access indirectly to external guidance - both directly from the Holy Ghost, and indirectly from all other sources of information such as legitimate and wise authority (e.g. of Men and books), true-tradition, and any other cultural product.
In sum; deep self-gratification is a sure guide to the operations of God and His agents; while superficial self-gratification may be a consequence of the manipulations - or sadism - of evil Men and/or the beings of supernatural evil.
Wednesday, 5 April 2023
Correcting CS Lewis's definition of Joy
From Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, 1955.
Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing....
With that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country... the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is.
And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to "have it again" was the supreme and only important object of desire...
The imaginative longing for Joy, or rather the longing which was Joy.
Yesterday on a train to the Northumberland town of Hexham, a clear and sunny day, travelling with my son, and for more than half-an-hour; I was filled with that 'romantic' feeling (which seems so much more than just a feeling) which CS Lewis called Joy, and which Novalis first described as Sehnsucht - specifically a 'longing' for the enchanted Blue Flower.
Everything I saw, and the conversation, was layered with meanings. I felt that I was in exactly the right place for... For what was needed at that exact time. Gratitude was probably the main emotion.
I know this feeling well, and am familiar too with the 'longing' aspect of it; yet I have never been contented by Lewis's (or Novalis's) definition of this feeling in terms of the attribute of longing. That seems superficial, and also incidental.
The core of the experience of Joy is, surely?, in terms of its intended function; I seek an explanation of why this feeling may happen, and what it is implicitly pointing-at (which is not, I feel sure) merely 'more of the same', more than merely the feeling's own perpetuation.
In brief; I have always felt that the reason for each instance of Joy was that I was supposed to learn something; but what I actually learned, or was supposed to learn, was something I found it impossible to be sure about.
The content of the experience seemed to matter more than the feeling; yet it was not just the content that led to the feeling - it was not not just my perceptions, nor other stimuli...
And that 'longing' was actually more like the awareness that - even while I was experiencing Joy - I simultaneously knew that these feelings would end, and that everything I saw - every circumstance that 'led-to' the feeling - would change.
Hence (as always) the here-and-now Joy was permeated with simultaneous nostalgia - I yearned, as-if I had already lost it. I yearned for what I actually was now-experiencing...
What is fundamentally happening in such moments is, I think, that we are bumping-against the evanescence of this mortal life and earth - we are up-against the fundamental nature of this life as intrinsically mortal; a life of entropic decay, inevitably terminated by death.
This life is unrepeatable, and everything will be lost; including our capacity to have such experiences, our memories of such moments.
It is exactly at such moments when the content - or more exactly the 'framework' - of Joy becomes crucial; at such moments we need to know what this life is for - given that it is always dissolving-away-from-us.
Such moments are when we are brought to confront our fundamental convictions regarding the nature of reality. And what happens then, depends upon those fundamental convictions.
If our conviction is that this mortal life is all-that-there-is; then Joy is utterly tragic.
But if our conviction is that this mortal life is a prelude to a further and eternal life that takes-up and builds from exactly these moments - then Joy is the greatest of possible boons: a literal foretaste of Heaven.
Saturday, 1 April 2023
What more can we do with The Inklings (and Notion Club Papers)? Scholarship, Criticism, Philosophy, Fanfiction?
My Treatment for how The Notion Club Papers might have been completed
Thursday, 23 March 2023
Review of the 1968 BBC Radio 'experimental' dramatization of The Hobbit
The BBC Radio dramatized version of The Hobbit came out in 1968 at the crest of the first phase of Tolkien's mass popularity; and the whole thing was an ambitious piece of work, done with considerable zest and and attention to detail.
There is a complex, high quality, medieval-style musical score; played by top-notch musicians on ancient instruments such as Crumhorns - which, immediately and throughout, sets the tone of the drama.
This sonic landscape is reinforced by the involvement of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop to provide sound effects and voice treatments: mostly good, but sometimes overwhelming in volume, and at other obscuring the voices.
About these voices... Several are given electronic 'treatments' - such as the Trolls, High Elves, Wargs, Eagles, and Thrush; and - especially for the Thrush - the words often becomes so distorted as to be simply incomprehensible.
Furthermore; it may be acceptable to have goblins speaking in high-pitched nasal accents - but the wood elves too, including their King?
There is, as in the original book, an 'avuncular' narrator to introduce and guide us (spoken by Anthony Jackson); but here he also interacts considerably (and humorously) with Bilbo himself - who is given a nuanced and varied performance by that stalwart of BBC radio: Paul Daneman.
Gandalf is given a distinctively waspish, ultra-irritable, somewhat Kenneth Williams-ish, character by Heron Carvic.
In general terms; the dramatization does a good job of following the light and shade of the book, and the darkening of tone towards the climax; Thorin's death and the maturation of Bilbo himself were well done. The climatic bits succeeded in being gripping and moving - except the scene with Gollum, which (for once) lost tension and fell a bit flat - partly due to repetitive sound-effects simulating the flapping of wet feet (I presume).
On the flip -side, it is sometime hard to understand what is going-on (unless you already know), and this is hindered by an extremely wide dynamic range - with some parts (especially speaking) so quiet as to be nearly inaudible, while others are deafeningly loud (the dragon attack on Esgaroth, for instance). This makes it useless for listening to in the car!
There are some other strange aspects: for example wilfully wrong pronunciations of several names. Gandalf is pronounced gand-ALF, Thorin is torEEN, Gollum is gohLOOM, Gondolin is gondo-LEEN (do you see the pattern?).
I can't imagine how this happened, given that no English-speaker in the world has ever spontaneously pronounced the names like this!
Especially since Tolkien was still alive at the time this programmed was made, and the BBC had a dedicated (and zealous) specialist department responsible for correct pronunciation in all broadcasts.
In sum, this could be called an 'experimental' dramatization of The Hobbit; and as such it was clearly done with care, considerable resources, and high motivation... albeit, in some parts, the experiments don't work.
On the plus side, this lends this 1968 Hobbit the charm of a 'period piece', very much 'of its time'.
Overall, in balance - I heartily recommend this dramatization. I have listened-to and enjoyed it many times over the years.
Thursday, 16 March 2023
Review of the BBC Radio Lord of the Rings (1981) - adapted by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell
The most important evaluation of the 1981 BBC Radio Lord of the Rings is that I have listened to it many times - most recently over the past few weeks. There is a lot to enjoy, and that enjoyment is enhanced by repeated listening; and some aspects are absolutely excellent.
Ultimately; I do not think it possible to adapt LotR for radio in a wholly satisfactory form, due to the constraints of the medium - but this version does very well those kinds of things that radio does best; which are the small scale, inter-personal dramas of the story.
That, indeed, seems to have been a guiding principle in the highly necessary process of selection; because the script jumps rather swiftly between such scenes - compressing the exposition, travels, crowds, and battles; which probably cannot be realized on radio.
At any rate; Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields are neither done effectively, such that Volume one ("The Fellowship of the Ring") seem (as a whole) the best done of the three books.
Given such opportunities by the script; several of the characterizations are memorable and powerful. Gandalf could not be bettered, Gollum is superb, Merry and Pippin are exactly right, Barliman Butterbur likewise. Sam is very well acted and the character developed, but I didn't find Bill Nighy's 'Mummerset' accent terribly convincing. I was not so keen on Frodo - who seemed over-emphatic in his mood changes, or Aragorn - who was inconsistent.
As seems usual in performance of LotR, the songs present a problem which is only partially solved. On the whole, I didn't find the quasi-classical music to be very appropriate or pleasing (except for the simple hobbit songs), and it was sometimes distinctly grating (especially the counter-tenor eagle, accompanied by harsh xylophone chords, whose chanting announces victory to the city of Minas Tirith - admittedly one of the lowest points of the original text).
The main weakness is that I do not think someone unfamiliar with the books would be able to follow the story - in particular I think the 'action' scenes would be confusing.
This is mostly the limitations of radio; and could only have been overcome by having long passages of narration - which would probably have spoiled the inter-personal, dramatic, scenes that are this adaptations greatest strength.
I think the version's major virtue is in its overall spirit. It comes across as a sincere and highly-motivated adaptation - produced, directed, written... put-together (where it mattered) by people* who loved Tolkien's book and were doing their very best.
(For instance, in my experience, any adaptation by Brian Sibley always provides something valuable.)
Thus I find the whole thing likeable, and feel considerable affection towards it - warts and all!
And - at its frequent best, in the scenes of conversations between major characters - the 1981 BBC Radio LotR is often variously amusing, sad, charming, frightening, and beautiful.
In sum; it enhanced my appreciation and understanding of the original, as well as being enjoyable in its own right.
Thursday, 23 February 2023
Don't mention the Gollum! Why doesn't Frodo tell the others in the Fellowship that they are being followed?
I have always been puzzled that - from Moria, to Lothlorien under under its eaves, then down the River Anduin, Frodo never thought to mention to other members of the Fellowship, that he could hear the sounds of someone following - and that he suspected it was Gollum.
(Page numbers are from the Kindle edition of Lord of the Rings):
p311: Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the fall of soft bare feet. It was never loud enough, or near enough, for him to feel certain that he heard it; but once it had started it never stopped, while the company was moving. But it was not an echo, for when they halted it pattered on for a little all by itself; and then grew still.
OK; Frodo wasn't 'certain' - but why not mention it?
Just to be on the safe side, and to alert the others?
p314: Frodo's spirits rose a little, but he still felt oppressed, and still at time he heard, or thought he heard, away behind the company and beyond the fall and patter of their feet, a following footstep that was not an echo.
p317: [Frodo's] watch was nearly over when, far off where he guessed that the western archway stood, he fancied that he could see two pale points of light, almost like luminous eyes.
Frodo manages to convince himself he was dreaming the eyes, but given the previous twice times he 'thought' he had heard footsteps, and what he knew of Gollum from Bilbo; surely now would be the time to voice his suspicions and put the Fellowship onto alert.
In between escaping from Moria, and reaching the woods of Lothlorien, Frodo is at the rear with Gimli who says he can hear nothing. But then, hobbits hear better than dwarves.
p337: Yet [Frodo] had heard something, or thought he had. As soon as the shadows had fallen about them, and the road behind was dim, he had heard again the quick patter of feet. Even now he heard it. He turned swiftly, There were two tiny gleams of light behind, or for a moment he thought he saw then, but at once they slipped aside and vanished.
'What is it?' said the dwarf.
I don't know', answered Frodo. I thought I heard feet, and a thought I saw a light - like eyes. I have thought so often, since we first entered Moria.'
At last, Frodo has mentioned it! But when Gimli hears nothing by lying with his ear to the ground (!) - this supposedly settles the matter negatively, and no more is said or done.
That same night, Frodo actually sees Gollum's face, after Gollum has climbed up to the tree platform where the hobbits slept.
But Gollum escapes when Haldir the elf returns. Haldir also sees something not an orc, that he thought was like a hobbit, except for being skilled in trees (so Frodo knows for sure he did not imagine it). But the mystery climber is never mentioned to the company, nor his identity speculated upon.
By now, Frodo has surely put two and two together and knows that they are being followed by Gollum; but still says nothing to the company at large.
Only when, after leaving Lorien, when they are travelling in boats down the Anduin, and Sam reports seeing 'a log with eyes' that is catching up with the boats, and 'puts a name' to this creature; does Frodo actually discuss his previous observations of Gollum, and reveal - but only to Sam! - that he had already noticed that something was trailing the company, and who it was.
Later that night, after Gollum has attempted an attack and Aragorn has been roused, it turns-out that Aragorn has also known that Gollum has been following them "all through Moria and right down to Nimrodel".
I must say; I find this kind of secrecy inexplicable!
If I had been another member of the Fellowship, I would certainly have appreciated being told, whether by Frodo or Aragorn (who became their leader after Gandalf's fall) that we has Gollum on our trail.
Not least, those of the company who were standing watch, ought to have been told what Gollum looked like, and his capabilities, so that they would know the kind of threat to look-out-for.
In fact; if I had been Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, or one of the other hobbits; I would have been pretty angry if I discovered that such a vital piece of information was known but being withheld (independently of each other) for many days, both by Frodo and Aragorn.
My assumption is that Tolkien wanted to spin-out the suspense, and not to name Gollum - but instead to let the reader piece-together the clues; and only gradually realize that someone was following the Fellowship, and whom.
But I think he overdid it!
To the point of generating pointlessly, and indeed dangerously, secretive behaviour that is implausible from Frodo, and even more so from Aragorn.
Tuesday, 7 February 2023
Charles Williams - his disbelief in the devil, and his convergence with 'oneness spirituality'
I am surprised that so many self-identified Christians disbelieve in the devil; not only because there are so many biblical references, but also because a devil makes strong sense both metaphysically (in terms of an explanation for the world as a whole) and empirically (as an coherent way of explaining and predicting the specific occurrences of this world).
I commented some time ago that a Christian who was as scholarly, influential and respected as Charles Williams; nonetheless didn't believe that the devil was real.
I found this confirmed in my current re-read of his novel The Greater Trumps, where the character Sybil (who is clearly intended to be the depiction of a very-near Saint - although not convincingly to my mind) says this in her internal monologue:
She did not, in the ordinary sense, "pray for" Nancy; she did not presume to suggest to the Omniscience that it would be a thoroughly good thing if It did; she merely held her own thought of Nancy stable in the midst of Omniscience. She hoped Nancy wouldn't mind, if she knew it. If, she thought as, the prayer over, she put on her other shoe - if she had believed in a Devil, it would have been awkward to know whether or not it would have been permissible to offer the Devil to Love in that way. Because the Devil might dislike it very much, and then...* However, she didn't believe in the Devil...
Elsewhere in the novel in several places, it is clear that Williams regards the most evil thing to be the Ego, the Self; because the characters who are depicted as doing Good are expunging their sense of self of agency, of separateness.
This is a common trope, indeed, among many self-identified Christians through the past 2000 years - I mean that being a "Good Christian" entails a destruction of any recognition of oneself as a separate being from God - the goal is to merge with God, or at least allow God and Goodness to flow through oneself. The self is ideally to become transparent, immaterial - the self standing aside and - eventually - being discarded.
In other words; I am suggesting that among those who regard themselves as Christian but who do not believe in the devil; it seems usual to believe that - in effect - The Ego is the devil.
Sometimes this is even stated explicitly; but even when unstated it seems to be implicit in analysis and discussions of evil; because the attribution of evil tend to converge upon the separate and strong ego of a person - often the separated selfhood of the Christian himself is regarded as the primary evil in the world.
This substitution of the devil by the ego in a context of the primary desire for oneness is, I think, one path by which someone who regards himself as Christian can come to deny the reality of the devil.
This fits with a metaphysical theology that all Good comes from God, and (therefore) for Men to become Good, requires that they cease to offer any obstacle to the shining forth of God's Goodness.
When God is regarded as omniscient and omnipotent, it seems logical that Men can add - from themselves - nothing to Goodness; which is (by definition) already complete and perfect.
Since Men can add nothing to Goodness but only obstruct Goodness by their innate evil; Men should, therefore, ideally become empty, become like conduits for the expression of divine Goodness.
What I am getting-at here is that this is another version of my old bugbear "oneness spirituality" - the only officially- and totalitarian-approved modern spirituality - once again confusing people and masquerading as Christianity.
I tend to think that oneness spirituality is a point of convergence both of Christians who really-believe in in a mono-omni-God with whom the Christian ought to assimilate; and those adherents of 'Eastern religions' (Hinduism, Buddhism) who believe in a more pantheistic and abstract non-personal deity - that is 'everything'.
The conceptual gap is bridged by the soaring abstractions and infinitudes of 'Classical' Christian theology (i.e. using concepts from pre-Christian Greek and Roman philosophy - especially Platonism and Neo-Platonism). In other words; abstractions and infinites applied to God conceptually-merge the person of God into a de facto impersonal deity.
I mean the "mainstream Christian" theology that has, as fundamental, assertions of the Oneness of The Trinity; God's supposed attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence etc.; and an infinite gulf posited between creator and created.
What I am saying is that someone who takes seriously, and rigorously pursues the implications of, Classical Christian theology; will find that - one the one hand - he is converging towards a oneness spirituality (and the stance of 'perennial philosophy'); and on the other hand will disbelieve in the devil specifically and the operations of purposive spiritual evil more generally - and will regard Man's self/ego as the biggest spiritual problem in the world.
Both of these are harmful in the context of the spiritual challenges for Christians in 2023.
Firstly, because the Western Christian churches have been corrupted and enlisted on the side of evil; this implies that such a fact will be invisible to one who disbelieves that there is a 'side of evil'.
Furthermore, when the churches are corrupt, the individual Christian must operate from that which is Good in his own self/ ego - as the basis for discernment and seeking spiritual guidance. Unless there is the possibility of recognizing and committing to the Good within us, we cannot discern God's guidance from without-our-selves.
If, instead, we are trying to dissolve our selves into the Omni-God, or into the divine-which-is-everything (it makes little practical difference which); then we are trying to destroy the only thing that might save us in an institutionally-evil world.
*Note: This is a quite extraordinary sentiment for CW to put into the thoughts of a supposedly sanctified woman! To express concern that the Devil "might dislike" something we did, and that this should be considered as a reason for Not doing it!
This suggests either that the devil is not really evil, and so ought not to be made miserable. Or else it confirms that he is being regarded by CW as so certainly unreal; that one may indulge idle fancies about his preferences, and how it might be desirable to 'keep in the Devil's good books...' The "and then..." seems to indicate that unspecified or implied bad things might happen to us, if the Devil regarded us as his enemy.
My interpretation is that Williams may here be hinting (esoterically, to his inner circle - albeit so vaguely as to be deniable) that the Devil does not exist; but that there are personal powers who get called demonic (by many Christians) who can be helpful, of treated with due respect. I would guess that this had something to do with Williams's ritual magical practices.
Of course I cannot be sure; but we do know (e.g. from surviving letters and records of conversations) that this kind of subtle, deniable, esoteric hinting in his published writing was exactly the way he operated.
Wednesday, 25 January 2023
Tolkien's Elves, Men and 'entropy'
Tolkien's Elves and Men can be regarded as differing, most fundamentally, in terms of how each race interacts with the fact of 'entropy' - by which I mean the inevitability of physical (bodily) change, disease, decay, and death in the mortal lands of Middle Earth.
The Elves have many subdivisions following the 'sundering' that occurred on the Great Journey - which was aiming to take the elves to the Undying Lands of Valinor.
At the extremes of Elf types are the Avari and the Vanyar.
The Avari were the 'unwilling' who refused even to embark upon the Great Journey. These Elves seem to have no desire at all to leave Middle Earth, and will therefore inevitably experience the 'fading' which happens to all Elves who choose to remain in the mortal lands.
Fading is described in terms of the progressive disappearance of the Elf's body until all that remains is an unchanging and immortal spirit. Thus the Avari elude entropy by discarding their bodies, including all for which bodies are necessary in mortal lands.
What remains of such Elves is much like we would call a 'ghost' - either invisible for just an illusory image; and without self-awareness or the capacity to learn - but immortal in that state.
The Vanyar are those Elves who unambiguously wanted to live in Valinor, with the Valar, for eternity (or until the end of 'the universe').
Since they inhabit the undying lands, the Vanyar expect not to decay or die - their bodies are not subject to disease or ageing. Indeed, their condition may approximate to changelessness - which includes that they would cease to learn, and would live lives in such complete harmony with the will of the Valar (amounting to passivity and total obedience) that they would only be creative agents in a very limited sense - only 'within' what had already been-created and not beyond it.
(The Vanyar are therefore much like that Catholic conceptualization of the Angels in Heaven; but incarnated in everlasting bodies, and living in the presence of 'the gods', rather than the One and original Creator God.)
We might therefore see the condition of the Vanyar as analogous with the Avari in terms of 'eluding' entropy by becoming changeless.
And this can be seen, therefore, as the 'destiny' of the Elves as a race of humans.
Changelessness is the 'price' that Elves pay for eternal life.
(It may, however, be that the Elves life is not eternal but finite; bounded by the end of the universe as Tolkien often stated. On the other hand; the Second Prophecy of Mandos suggests that Elves, as well as Men, may be eternal.)
The situation for men in Tolkien's world is the same as for Christians in our world. That is; the bodies of mortal Men (living in Middle earth) are subject to entropy and will inevitably experience change, disease and decay - and mortal death of the body.
After mortal death, the spirit separates from the body and leaves 'the universe'; with the possibility of undergoing resurrection (after the time of Jesus Christ, which came later than The Lord of the Rings) - which is an immortal incarnation (embodiment) dwelling in 'Heaven' - where entropy is absent and all that is Good will be eternal.
It is resurrection that overcomes entropy for Men; and the final situation of resurrected Men is one in which they have everlasting bodies and become Sons and Daughters of God.
The situation of resurrected Men is therefore one of much greater agency and creative potential than is possible for Elves.
What is fascinating about Tolkien's contrasting of Elves and Men is that the two races develop in contrary (if not opposite) directions. Elves begin as much less subject to entropy than Men, and therefore more creative and powerful than Men.
But Elves are less free and less creative as they develop, and eventually almost cease to change; ending as essentially passive and contemplative and with little distinction from their environment (whether Middle Earth or Valinor).
Whereas Men are more and more subject to entropy, and with short lives; which - in many ways - tends to thwart their capacity for creativity and power. And then they die: overcome by entropy, as it were.
After which, Men may be resurrected; and attain to an embodied, eternal state of greater agency and creativity than Elves could ever attain.
The different destinies of Elves and Men, and the contrary direction of their developments, means that there was only a limited period when the two races interacted significantly (the First and Second Ages of Middle Earth); and it was mainly with the intermediate - and therefore more Man-like - types of Elf that Men had much to do: principally the Noldor and Sindar.
And while Elves converge upon the Valar (the 'gods' or secondary sub-creators); Men have the higher potential destiny of Converging upon God - (the primary creator).
So death is the 'price' that Men pay for a resurrected life that overcomes entropy; while (unlike the Elves) remaining capable of change, learning, development and creativity.