Thursday 30 June 2016

Are Elves and Dwarves really-real?

Yes - of course - unless you adopt the usual modern metaphysical assumption that they cannot be real (because 'science has proven' that they don't exist, because they can't exist); and therefore that the vast quantity historical and multinational documentation must be wrong; and our only job is to make some suggestions as to why it is wrong.

But although they are real, but normal standards of proof - elves and dwarves* seem to be real in different ways - which have implications for the nature of that reality.

It is a trope of fantasy writing that dwarves are all the same, while 'our elves/ fairies are different' - every writer depicts elves differently.

But why should this be? Well, the simple answer is that dwarves are the same because that is just how dwarves actually are: small, broad, bearded, greedy and suspicious, superb craftsmen, live underground...

But elves? Well some are very good, some are very bad; some are beautiful while others are hideous; some are celibate and ethereal while others sexy or lustful; some tall while others diminutive - and so on. Why should this be - assuming that elves are real?

The clue is that elves always have supernatural/ magical powers; and the reason for that is that real life elves are angels, as humans have experienced them. But, of course, angels are of two types - angels and fallen-angels or demons, and both of these are able to shape-shift and assume various forms and appearances.

So dwarves are real and a separate race; elves are real and constitute a type of Human situated somewhere between fully-divine God and Men - this is consistent with the mythical fact that elves and men can interbreed and produce viable (half-elven) offspring - but not Men and dwarves.

*Note: I prefer to use Tolkien's spelling of the dwarf-plural 'dwarves' - rather than the commoner 'dwarfs'.  After all, Tolkien knew more about their linguistic history than anyone else.

Transition from French-Norman to Germanic romance in The Notion Club Papers

The Notion Club Papers begins as a modern novel, and its first move out of the everyday and modern comes with the accounts of Ramer's dreams.

The dream fantasy was a standard form at the time of Chaucer when although literature began to be written in English, the forms were taken from France and Italy - French and Latin literature. All of Chaucer's major poems except for the Canterbury Tales takes the form of a dream fantasy. Langland's Pier's Plowman is also an account of dream visions. These are not myths - magic is imaginary.

With such dreams, the primary of mundane reality is retained; but in the Germanic (Anglo Saxon) romance - such as Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or the legends included by Wagner in his Ring operas - we are in the realm of myth. in such worlds; magic, the supernatural, monsters and other beings (such as dwarves, elves, giants and trolls) are real.

The atmospheres of these two genres is very different. The dream fantasies are modern, often cynical, ironic - giving supernatural wonders with one hand, and pushing them away as unreal with the other hand.

But the mythic and supernatural worlds are stark, serious; monsters such as Grendel and the Dragon actually kill people; interventions by elves and dwarves can change the course of history.

The Notion Club papers makes a transition from dream imagination in a context of mundane reality to the invasion of myth. As a storm from the fall of Numenor breaks over the British Isles, the modern world begins to become mythic - and (in the projected but unwritten parts) there is promise of the emergence of real elves into the narrative.

Simultaneously there is a loss of the formerly ironic and playful 'banter' of the earlier part of the narrative - and an increasing seriousness. Exactly this movement also happened in The Hobbit - an incremental 'elevation' to a high and heroic style and substance as the story proceeds.

Presumably this was Tolkien's intention in writing the Notion Club Papers which he hoped would serve as a bridge and also a frame for The Lord of the Rings; the NCPs would take the reader from the detached, ironical modern and utterly un-magical here-and-now - up into the world of the serious and supernatural magic myth.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Magic as (Barfieldian) Participation in Tolkien's Legendarium - Druedain are Original Participation, High Elves are Final Participation

During the journey to Gondor in The Lord of the Rings, the Riders of Rohan meet with a group of hunter-gatherers called the Druedain - Tolkien gives more information on the subject in notes published posthumously by his son Christopher in Forgotten Tales

These are simple, ugly, short-lived, and illiterate Men - who have various kinds of natural magical abilities - for example, they can make statues of themselves (which the Riders call Pukel-men) which can be infused with abilities such as to be vigilant and defend their territory against enemies. Another magical personage who lives in Original Participation is Tom Bombadil.

Then there are the High Elves - such as Galadriel or Glorfindel, who are highly intelligent ('wise'), beautiful, 'immortal' (immune to illness, able to live for the duration of the earth's life, unless slain), and the inventors of language and writing. The High Elves are also magic, able to make food, drink, clothing and ropes with extraordinary properties; see true visions in water; also ring, jewels and weapons with remarkable properties. This High magic is not a matter of trance-like sympathetic identification - but is purposive and fully conscious process.

The other races are arrayed in between these magical extremes in a way which corresponds exactly to Owen Barfield's description of the evolution of human consciousness - from the first magical stage of Original Participation in which human consciousness blends with its surroundings; through a middle and non-magical stage in which consciousness is detached from the world, and

Hobbits and most Men (and, I would say, Ents) are of the completely non-magical stage in the evolution of consciousness except insofar as they become 'elven' - for example Frodo becomes somewhat magical after being formally made an Elf Friend by the High Elf, Gildor. Frodo's is therefore an example of the early stage of Final Participation.

Dwarves are slightly magical - mainly in their technology - for example the Arkenstone (in The Hobbit) is clearly a magical jewel along the lines of the Silmaril). My feeling is that this is a developed, intelligent and wise ability of only the most 'evolved' dwarves - and therefore a partial Final Participation.

The Numenorean Men are also magical - and this is again the elven magic of Final Participation - partly because of the lineage of HIgh Elven (and Maia - angelic) ancestry, and partly from a blessing by the Valar at the time of their dwelling in Numenor. We see this only in Aragorn and Denethor - for example their ability to control the Palantir, and the healing powers of Aragorn which can (uniquely) combat the dark magic of the Witch King Nazgul.

If we were to fuse Tolkien and Barfield (something which did not happen in 'real life') we would regard the elven strain in the Numenoreans and in Frodo as the first inklings of a return to a magical relationship with 'the world' which had been known to the Druedain - but at a higher, purposive and fully-alert way.

The terrible history of Numenor, and the sad fates of Denethor and (to a lesser extent) Frodo also show the perils of this future - in a pessemistic fashion very characteristic of Tolkien's Weltanschauung. Barfield, by contrast, saw this future as Man's destiny: desirable and in a sense necessary - but not inevitable.

Friday 10 June 2016

The Lord of the Rings is true, of course - but in what way?

I remember being aged about 14 and being mildly mocked and teased for believing that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was true - the person doing the mocking was the friend who had actually introduced me to the book, and he liked it very much. That was one thing, he said; but I actually believed it.

What I found so cutting - and this is why I remember the event - was that it was correct: I did believe LotR was true; and I was shocked to discover that this friend did not - it seemed like a betrayal, and indeed I did not regard him as a friend after that point.

For me, the main fact about the Lord of the Rings was that it was true. How exactly to explain that - to explain what 'being true' meant in this context - was a further question; but the truth was the main thing. Indeed, I have never come across a satisfying explanation of the way that LotR (for example) is true. I am not satisfied by Tolkien's own explanation with respect to Subcreation in his essay On Fairy Stories and the many other pieces in that tradition; I am not satisfied by the explanations based on Symbolism; nor by Jungian Collective Unconscious type explanations - even less by post-Jungian explanations of myth in the Joseph Campbell/ James Hillman style.

All these sell short the way in which LotR is true. On the one hand it is not literally true in any kind of fact-by-fact basis; but on the other hand it is solidly true in-and-of-itself in a way that is grossly under-sold by the explanations I have seen. These explanations are, indeed, not even they kind of thing that could be a satisfactory explanation - they are abstract schemes based on abstractions; whereas the truth of Tolkien is anything-but abstract - the opposite of abstract! It is something experienced.

In fact, given its role in my life over many decades, this inability to explain the truth of LotR takes on a decisive aspect - it points to a major inadequacy of metaphysics, a failure of the basic structure of thinking which I have been assumed and lived-by.

If it was just Lord of the Rings that would perhaps be less significant; but the problem is more general. For example, the truth of Father Christmas/ Santa Claus. I really dislike hearing people say that Father Christmas is untrue - it seems like a shocking and shameful admission to advertise oneself as an unbeliever in so obviously and importantly true a phenomenon. Yet I seemingly can't explain how or why Father Christmas is true - any explanation I have known for the way he is true, grossly undersells the matter.

On the flip-side, there are many indeed most things in public life which it would be regarded as a mark of insanity to deny the truth of that do not strike me as true - things in science, history, common knowledge... They conspicuously lack that which Lord of the Rings has in such abundance - I know that LotR is true, and with them... I don't.

This is a long-way-round to my recent grasp of Rudolf Steiner's metaphysics (or, 'epistemology' as modern philosophers tend to call it) which I outlined yesterday - 

- and its clear assertion that what is thought is reality: not a representation of reality but actually the same thing. In thinking we are participating-in the totality of universal truth.

This is metaphysics, so it is not the kind of question we discuss on the basis of 'evidence' - but (among many other attributes and consequences) this seems to me to be the solution to the problem of the truth of the Lord of the Rings. In reading (and thinking about) LotR I was - with great focus, concentration and clarity - thinking some of the truths of the universe; the actual primary stuff of creation was active in my consciousness.

But why specifically LotR? Surely all thoughts and all thinking have that characteristic? Yes, but not all things that we casually assume are thoughts and thinking, actually are thoughts and thinking. For me, clearly (assuming the metaphysical assumptions) there was something about Lord of the Rings that made it so I really, clearly, powerfully thought it and was aware of my thinking.                 

Of course the Lord of the Rings is true! - universally, and really true.