Monday 16 August 2021

What makes Men better than elves?

Why is it that in Tolkien's world, Men come after the 'first born' elves and take-over from elves as the dominant humans on Middle Earth?

In one sense this sequence of elves then Men 'had to' be true if elves ever were to be dominant, because Tolkien was writing 'feigned history' and his reader lives in a world of Men - where elves are either absent or hidden. 

This sequence of first elves, then men - was indeed planned by Eru (God) - implying that it is A Good Thing for men to take-over - that it is better for the world to be run by Men than by elves.

Yet the reader finds this hard to understand, and Tolkien is never able to explain satisfactorily how exactly Men can be regarded as genuinely superior to elves* - given that elves are more beautiful and intelligent; better at magic and science, arts and crafts; do not suffer aging, do not get ill - and do not die. 

Well, elves can be killed - apparently like Men; but there are brief hints (especially in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen in the Appendices) that after death the spirits (or souls) of elves stay within the world (potentially to be reincarnated), while the spirits of Men leave the world - and go... somewhere else. 

Yet again though; it is not clear why this is a superiority of Men - beyond that after some thousands of years, most elves simply get fed-up and tired of being alive - and therefore might crave extinction as a form of 'rest'. 

Furthermore elves also care deeply for the world - they love and cherish nature. Knowing they will live in the world indefinitely, they preserve its beauties and (through their arts and craft) create new beauties. By contrast, short-lived Men seem to have the attitude of mere visitors to Middle Earth (or 'guests' as elves apparently term Men).  

To explain the 'superiority' of Men, and why they replaced elves; Tolkien talks variously that elves are confined to the circles of the world while Men are able to 'escape' from them. But it is not obvious why this escape - into what? - is better than the elves chance to live 'forever' in undying paradise. 

Or Tolkien explains that Men have, in some sense, genuine freedom to act outside of the music of the Valar - the destiny of the world. But again, it is not clear that elves lack anything of free will, at least as it can be observed. Legolas seems no less free than Boromir, or Galadriel than Gandalf - and their capacity to choose freely is indeed an important aspect of their goodness. 

However, Tolkien was of course right - and the difficulties in explaining convincingly how and why Men 'superseded' elves arose mainly because he was trying to explain the superiority of Men without explicitly naming Jesus Christ, resurrection and Heaven.

The simple explanation of why Men came after elves, superseded elves, and are 'better' than elves - is that by dying - really dying - and leaving the circles of the world, Men are able to be resurrected into Heaven. The superiority of Men is just that and incarnated life in Heaven is better than life in paradise.

By not-dying, elves are doomed to remain essentially themselves - whether these selves are reincarnated or spirits. And no matter how superior elvish selves may be to mortal Men, they are greatly inferior to resurrected Men, who will excel even the Valar - since resurrected Men are cleansed of sin, and think and live in full accord with the divine will.  

*Note: Tolkien's best discussion of 'elves versus Men' comes in The Debate of Finrod and Andreth. I have also found helpful a really excellent fanfiction novel called The Question of Pengolod, which I have mentioned before on this blog.  

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Tolkien and escapism - into enchantment, or merely glamour?

We all need to escape - with a psychological need that gets more urgent and compelling as the bars of the Iron Prison close-in upon the whole world. 

But the psychological need is mostly assuaged by glamour - as constructed and disseminated by the mass media. From adolescence onward, typical modern Man absolutely relies-upon glamour fantasies (and, maybe, a bit of our own - secondhand - glamorous reality at evenings, weekends and on holiday). 

In daydreams, in fantasy, modern Man sees himself, watches-himself and his life, as if he was in a photo-shoot or movie - cool, stylish, attractive, charming, dominant, impulsive, blissed-out... whatever it may be - as if he lived 'inside' the world of the media. 

The hedonic life... And of course it does not work; even on its own terms. It is not gratifying - except negatively (scratching an itch of dependence), it is merely addictive

People have 'fun' and 'enjoy' themselves, and (essentially) discuss this online (and sometimes in person...) - and people are depressed, miserable, afraid and despairing... As who would not be with a life divided between expanding-crushing bureaucracy and totalitarian regulation on the one hand; and the shallow, jaded triviality of glamour on the other. 

We need enchantment (not glamour) - and the re-enchantment of The World, of Life, must not be an attempt to apply enchantment like paint on a surface; but instead a rebuilding of life from new (or rather) old assumptions.

Building from assumptions that are first Christian (so that our faith brings hope) and secondly (but vitally) Romantic - so that we know our own personal everyday world (properly understood) is alive, conscious, purposive - and that we are personally involved in the reality of this world by the relation of love.

This spiritual life of excitement and enchantment is not 'private' - because the spiritual realm is objectively real; but enchantment is hidden from the world of politics, bureaucracy, the media and public discourse generally. 

We really are actors in an unfolding drama of enchantment - but this is not a public drama to be observed on screen and in media; instead our life is a spiritual drama that we know in our own heart-thinking; and shared with God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost - also with spiritual beings such as angels and demons, who have vital roles to play in the drama. 

And re-enchantment must come from within - it is not a consequence of external stimuli.

Not even Tolkien's work will supply enchantment - obviously, because most of his fans have extracted merely distracting glamour from Lord of the Rings: they see it as 'sword and sorcery', not as an enchanted world.

Tolkien rightly defended escapism as a valid goal of reading fairy stories - but he meant the escape to be into the enchantment of faery; not escape into merely mundane glamour, excitement and hyper-stimulus. 

For Tolkien it was only partly a matter of 'escape-from' - but mostly a matter of what the reader 'escapes-to'. 

If the reader escapes-to a fantasy world that is merely not-true, a world into-which the reader imports the (inverted) values of modernity - a focus on cool, style, charm, sex and sexual transgression, ultra-violence fear and despair; then glamour has displaced enchantment, and escapism has become merely therapeutic

To regard Tolkien's world as implicitly one of mere 'glamour', of psychology - as do most of Tolkien's modern 'fans' and 'scholars' - is an inevitable consequence of carrying mainstream leftist-materialist atheism into that world - thereby annihilating enchantment. 

Enchantment is (as of 2021, when things have come to a point) open only to Christians - and only effective in their lives when that Christianity is Romantic

Enchantment then brings both hope and optimism - because Christian hope points beyond this mundane and transient world of corruption; and  optimism comes from the revelation that our actual life can be - when properly regarded - an heroic daily adventure, a war of good and evil: exactly like the Lord of the Rings truly is, for those with hearts to know it.    

Sunday 8 August 2021

"Fairy-wife", elf-friend, or staying in faery - three ways that mortals may become 'elvish'

In Tolkien's universe, for a mortal to become more like the 'immortal' elves, more elvish, is regarded an ennoblement. 

Elvishness has various possible effects - one is simply to make the mortal more beautiful (in an elvish way), another is to introduce a yearning-for and appreciation-of 'higher things - such as song, poetry, learning, and wild and beautiful country such as mountains and forests. 

There are also possibilities of greater 'wisdom' - including higher intelligence and 'supernatural' abilities such as foresight and discernment of deeper truths. 

Thus the men of Dol Amroth were made more beautiful by the fact of one of the Princes having married a Silvan elf and - presumably - infusing the population with elvish blood. This seems also to have happened to the Numenoreans due to the marriages of Beren (Man) with Luthien (maia-elf) and Idril (mostly elf) and Tuor (Man). 

Yet - in addition - as well as the results of interbreeding on the bloodlines, there must surely have been an indirect effect due to the larger populations having been formally named "elf-friends" by a 'high elf' of high status - as happened with the Numenorean Men; and also with Frodo and Gildor

Or, perhaps from some kind of proximity-effect of elvishness in a population - whereby living with those of elvish descent, and/or elf-friends, 'rubbed-off' on the other mortals. 

I say 'mortals' because there are examples from both Men and Hobbits; and the one dwarf example of Gimli - who was (we are told in the Appendices) formally named "elf-friend" - presumably by Galadriel, or perhaps by Legolas (see below). It is implied that no other dwarf would have wanted to be named an elf-friend, although there were earlier examples of at least close cooperation between Noldor elves and dwarves, such a Celebrimbor and Narvi who seem to have cooperated in constructing the West Gate of Moria. 

Gimli was unique among dwarves due to his special reverence for Galadriel (a high elf) and his close friendship with Legolas (a 'grey' elf or Sindar) - and he became the only dwarf to go to the undying lands at the end of his life. 

Bilbo was also named an elf-friend - by Legolas's father Thranduil (in The Hobbit) - so we may infer that the Sindar (being of 'the Eldar' or higher elves, although never having been to the undying lands) perhaps also had the capacity to 'make' elf-friends. 

Other interesting examples among the hobbits were the Tooks - about whom there was a legend that one had 'taken a fairy wife'. We are told (by The Hobbit's narrator) that this was not true - but it suggests the possibility that this might have happened. 

And it is one potential basis for the fact that the Fallohide type of hobbit (including the Tooks and Brandybucks) had distinctly elvish attributes - such as leadership, adventurousness and preference for hunting - although these are more like the Silvan wood elves of Mirkwood than the Eldar. Perhaps, therefore, there was indeed - as with the Princes of Dol Amroth, a union of wood elf and hobbit at some point in history? 

But there seem to be other ways in which hobbits can become elvish - with the example of Sam's first-born child, his daughter Elanor; who is described as exceptionally beautiful in an elvish way despite being born to non-Fallohide hobbit parents. Elanor's lineage was also responsible for the preservation of the Red Book of Westmarch - from which Tolkien's stories were 'edited' - so she apparently had the elvish attribute of scholarship.

The implication seems to be that this elvishness of his first-born was due to Sam having visited Lothlorien, reverenced Galadriel, and perhaps also having received a gift from her. So, how did this work? 

Sam does not seem to have been named an elf-friend; so perhaps the mechanism was more like the legends of men about the lasting effects on a mortal of having visited fairyland or faery - including eating their food (perhaps especially - in this case - lembas; which are usually not allowed to mortals). 

At any rate, the elvish 'effect' seems to have 'worn-off' after Elanor was born, since none of Sam and Rosie's other children are described as having been especially elvish. Yet, the changes to the Shire hobbits after the war of the ring - which happened via Merry and Pippin, as well as Frodo and Sam; might also have a 'proximity' cause in their visits to Rivendell and Lothlorien. 

The above examples are enough to establish that the elvish influence was capable of being infused and transmitted to mortals (Men, hobbits, dwarves) by a variety of 'mechanisms'. 

And Tolkien (with his usual deniable-seriousness of tone) often attributed admirable aspects of more recent Men - such as personal beauty and a love of art and learning - to this remote and historical combination of personal contact, formal recognition by noble elves, and blood descent.