Minas Tirith Forums Create a New Topic  Reply to this Topic
profile | register |
search | faq | avatars | citizens
donate | about | library
 
Minas Tirith Forums » New Line Cinema's Lord of the Rings » Death and Immortality
Author Topic: Death and Immortality
Tuor
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 374

posted      Profile for Tuor   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
I wrote this back in January of 2006 and sent it to Halion in a PM. I read it yesterday and still liked what I wrote, so I decided to make it public:

Intro

In discussing PJ’s changes to the movies, Fingolfin of the Noldor posted that Tolkien believed that the L.R. is about death and immortality. At the time I did not know what that meant. Such a statement in itself is about as ambiguous as PJ’s claim that his movies were consistent with the SPIRIT of the books.

Fingy found that Tolkien believed his story to be about death and immortality by reading Letters. If Tolkien said it, then it is true. Yet what did Tolkien mean? I'll try to answer that question:


Elves

In Letter 144 Tolkien writes that his Elves aren’t really Elves at all.


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
‘Elves’ is a translation, not perhaps now very suitable, but originally good enough, of Quendi. They are represented as a race similar in appearance (and more so the further back) to Men, and in former days of the same stature. I will not here go into their differences from Men! But I suppose that the Quendi are in fact in these histories very little akin to the Elves and Fairies of Europe; and if I were pressed to rationalize, I should say that they represent really Men with greatly enhanced aesthetic and creative faculties, greater beauty and longer life, and nobility - the Elder Children, doomed to fade before the Followers (Men), and to live ultimately only by the thin line of their blood that was mingled with that of Men, among whom it was the only real claim to ‘nobility’.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So Tolkien’s Elves are not really Elves at all, and are just a variation of Men. True, they are different: immortal, use of magic (which is a can of worms within itself), and enhanced abilities. Yet in Tolkien’s eyes they were simply ‘super humans’. In the story they represent a different way of describing the human condition when it comes to death and immortality.

He states this belief again in Letter 181.

Letter 181


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Of course, in fact exterior to my story, Elves and Men are just different aspects of the Humane, and represent the problem of Death as seen by a finite but willing and self-conscious person. In this mythological world the Elves and Men are in their incarnate forms kindred, but in the relation of their ‘spirits’ to the world in time represent different ‘experiments, each of which has its own natural trend, and weakness. The Elves represent, as it were, the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men….
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tolkien then goes on to describes how Elves react in this experiment. Men are drawn to the temptation to strive for what is in their eyes immortality, while Elves strive to preserve what they believe to be the most beautiful world. Yet as Tolkien will explain, neither of these goals are actually achievable because Eru did not give them this power.

Letter 181 continued…


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
When ‘killed’, by the injury of destruction of their incarnate form, they do not escape from time, but remain in the world, either discarnate, or being re-born. This becomes a great burden as the ages lengthen, especially in a world in which there is malice and destruction…Mere change as such is not represented as ‘evil’: it is the unfolding of the story and to refuse this is of course against the design of God. But the Elvish weakness is in these terms naturally to regret the past, and to become unwilling to face change…Hence they fell in a measure to Sauron’s deceits: they desire some ‘power’ over things as they are (which is quite distinct from art), to make their particular will to preservation effective: to arrest change, and keep things always fresh and fair.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here Tolkien clearly states that Elves are tempted to prevent change. They grow to love their surroundings and do not want to see it die. Yet for every action there is a consequence. Tolkien expressly states that one consequence is that the Elves end up going against the design of God, in other words evil. Death is a natural aspect of life in Middle-earth. Other than the Theological consequence (an evil action), does the Elvish attempt to preserve the world they love have a negative aspect? Tolkien gave his answer to this question in Letter 154


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
But the Elves were not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were ‘embalmers’. They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-earth because they had become fond of it (and perhaps because they there had the advantages of a superior caste), and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert, where they could be ‘artist’ - and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Stop its growth”. That’s the problem with embalming, it prevents what will be from ever getting life. What happens to a tree after it falls? Is its once beauty gone? For a short time yes, but from the decaying corps new growth arise. Without death, there can be no new growth. It is the natural cycle of things in the mortal lands, and the Elven desire is to prevent the next generation of growth by preserving the present. In order to do this, the Elves exchange their art for power.

Lest one believe that the embalming nature of the rings was a one time statement, I present this from Letter 131


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the first we see a sort of second fall or at least ‘error’ of the Elves. There was nothing wrong essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with the mortal lands of their old heroic deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of ‘The West’, and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with ‘fading’, the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming - even though they also retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts…

But in Eregion great work began - and the Elves came their nearest to falling to ‘magic’ and machinery. With the aid of Sauron’s lore they made Rings of Power (‘power’ is an ominous and sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods).

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (I.e. ‘change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or love, or its semblance- this is more or less an Elvish motive.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here we have Tolkien stating that ‘power’ applied to Elves is a sinister word. Sinister is a bad thing, not a good thing. Why is the preservation of desired loved lands evil? Because power is used to bulldoze nature. Nature unfolds according to God’s design (see Letter 181 quoted above). In other words the prevention of decay is a rebellion against God. It should be of little surprise since the Elves were only able to achieve this power through Sauron’s instruction.


Some might argue that since Tolkien wrote “the Elves came their nearest to falling to ‘magic’ “ that this means that the use of the rings of power to preserve nature is not evil. This is simply a misunderstanding of the term ’fall’. A fall is a separation from God. It is a rebellion without redemption. Elrond, Galdriel and Cirdan redeemed themselves (and their people?) when they were willing to give up the power of their rings in order to defeat Sauron.


Men

In Letter 212 Tolkien explains that true immortality lies beyond Ea, and the attempt to extend one’s life is simply an attempt to prevent one from actually finding immortality.

Letter 212


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mortality, that is a short life-span having no relation to the life of Arda, is spoken as the given nature of Men: the Elves called it the Gift of Iluvatar (God). But is must be remembered that mythically these tales are Elf-centered, not anthropocentric, and Men only appear in them, at what must be a point long after their Coming. This is therefore an ‘Elvish’ view, and does not necessarily have anything to say for or against such beliefs as the Christian that ‘death’ is not part of human nature, but a punishment for sin (rebellion),a result of the ‘Fall’. It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death - not being tied to the ‘circles of the world’ - should now become for Men, however it arose. A divine ’punishment’ is also a divine ’gift’, if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make ’punishments’ (that is changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained: a ’mortal’ Man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one. To attempt by device or ’magic’ to recover longevity is thus a supreme folly and wickedness of ’mortals’. Longevity or counterfeit ’immortality’ (true immortality is beyond Ea) is the chief bait of Sauron - it leads the small to a Gollum, and the great to a Ringwraith.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth, there is a story recorded which explains how Men became ‘mortal’ and what happens to them after ‘death‘. It comes from The ‘Tale of Adanel‘ found in not 11


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The first Voice we never heard again, save once. In the stillness of the night It spoke, saying: ‘Ye have abjured Me, but ye remain Mine. I gave you life. Now it shall be shortened, and each of you in a little while hall come to Me, to learn who is your Lord: the one ye worship, or I who made him.’
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From this perspective, it is easy to see why Tolkien believed that immortality lies beyond Ea. Notice that the Voice (Eru) says that their lives will be shortened. This was to explain why they were no longer ‘immortal’. If their lives were simply shortened, then the end was inevitable in the first place. As Finrod said:


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
‘Our hunter is slow-footed, you would say?’ ‘True, But it is not clear that a forseen doom long delayed is in all ways a lighter burden than one that comes soon.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If this is the case, which it is. Ea is finite and will eventually end. Only when Ea’s time is over will the Elves die. Yet die they will, therefore even they are not immortal. They are simply long lived. In the end, immortality only exists in an immortal realm. Therefore immortality can only exist outside of Ea.

Since death is inevitable, even if one were to successful extend one’s time in Ea until its end, why would one fear death? Why would one want to postpone meeting the One? As was quoted in Letter 212 “Longevity or counterfeit ’immortality’ (true immortality is beyond Ea) is the chief bait of Sauron .“ In other words, it is the direct result of the Enemy’s lies.

This footnote from Letter 212 goes on to explain other ramifications of human mortality and the need to accept it:


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*[a note apparently added later:] It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Numenorean) view that a ’good’ Man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn). This may have been the nature of unfallen Man; though compulsion would not threaten him: he would desire and ask to be allowed to ’go on’ to a higher state. The Assumption of Mary, the only unfallen person, may be regarded as in some ways a simply regaining of unfallen grace and liberty: she asked to be received, and was, having no further function of Earth. Though, of course, even if unfallen she was not ’pre-fall’. Her destiny (in which she had cooperated) was far higher than that of any Man’ would have been, had the Fall not occurred. It was also unthinkable that her body, the immediate source of Our Lord’s (without other physical intermediary) should have been disintegrated, or ’corrupted’, nor could it surely be long separated from Him after the Ascension. There is of course no suggestion that Mary did not ’age’ at the normal rate of her race; but certainly this process cannot have proceeded or been allowed to proceed to decrepitude or loss of vitality and comeliness. The Assumption was in ay case as distinct from the Ascension as the raising of Lazarus from the (self) Resurrection.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tolkien gives one of the major physical reasons why Men should give up their lives before their bodies give out. If one lives too long, then one becomes decrepit. As my sister the nursing home nurse said “once an adult, twice a child”. If a man lives too long, then there is a good chance he will have to look forward to having someone change his soiled diapers. He will not be able to get himself out of bed. Yet he may not be aware of it because he may have already lost his mind. It seems to me that Tolkien was very aware of this evil and believed that God did not intend for Man to ever fall to such a state. The acceptance of death was the way God intended Men to avoid such a state.

I believe this is also important because it shows that Tolkien did not attempt to divorce is story from his Catholic beliefs. As a matter of fact, he embraces them and uses them to support his idea as to why good Men should willingly give up their lives.

What if a Man can extend his life without becoming physically or mentally decrepit? This is what Tolkien wrote in footnote in Letter 131:


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The view is taken (as clearly reappears later in the case of the Hobbits that have the Ring for a while) that each ‘Kind’ has a natural span, integral to its biological and spiritual nature. This cannot really be increased qualitatively or quantitatively; so that prolongation in tame is like stretching a wire out ever tauter, or ‘spreading butter ever thinner’ - it becomes an intolerable torment.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So no matter what, the attempt to make one's life longer is evil and has nothing but negative consequences.

Conclusion;

Letter 208


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Though it is only in reading the work myself (with criticism in mind) that I become aware of the dominance of the theme of Death. (Not that there is any original ‘message’ in that: most of human art & thought is similarly preoccupied.) But certainly the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with the Ringwraith. The Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Here we have Tolkien describing the two ways in which Elves and Men play out the theme of Death. Elves in the way they react to the changing (in their view dieing) world around them, while Men deal with the reality of their own deaths. Each group has a role to play in God’s design. Yet each group falls into confusion and becomes tempted to reject God’s plan. What is the origin of this confusion? Tolkien ascribes it to the Enemy. The Enemy is “The Beginner of Evil”, Melkor/Morgoth. The Elven desire to stop decay is the result of Melkor’s lie. Even though is may of a more beautiful result than the human error (with temporary success, becoming a wraith), both errors in dealing with immortality and mortality have their roots in the same ground and bear the same fruit: rebellion against the will of God. It is only when Men and Elves give up their natural desires to cling to 'life' that Elves and Men follow the course set out for them by Eru.

Somehow this isn't the message that PJ portrayed on the screen. It seems to me that Tolkien's message, no matter how you slice it, never made it.

[ 10-11-2009, 09:07 PM: Message edited by: Tuor ]

From: Oklahoma | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Snöwdog
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 15

posted      Profile for Snöwdog   Author's Homepage   Email Snöwdog   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
Somehow this isn't the message that PJ portrayed on the screen. It seems to me that Tolkien's message, no matter how you slice it, never made it.
Don't know about the rest of the yadda-yadda, but the last bit sums things up quite well.
From: In the Shadows of Annuminas | Registered: Aug 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Halion
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2140
posted      Profile for Halion   Email Halion   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
I actually hadn't completely forgotten about your piece, Tuor. I just haven't had the time and energy to assemble my thoughts about it into a reply that would make it justice. [] For now, I hope there are others who can get some discussion going.
Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Tuor
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 374

posted      Profile for Tuor   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
Snowdog,

I guess some people are interested in this subject that Tolkien took the time to write about, others see it as yadda-yadda.

Halion,

It must have been a busy 3 and a half years. [] Hopefully people will be interested enough to discuss the issue, but I'm not holding my breath. []

From: Oklahoma | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor pi
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 5374

posted      Profile for pi   Author's Homepage   Email pi   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
I would like to participate in a meaningful way, but what is already posted is more than I could have contributed anyway. []
Well done, it was interesting, and thanks for the good read. []

From: Virgo Supercluster, 40º N 75º W | Registered: Mar 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Tuor
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 374

posted      Profile for Tuor   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
Perhaps you could read the letters I've given and perhaps find others where Tolkien tried to deal with this issue. I'm sure there are other quotes from the texts that I have not given.
From: Oklahoma | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Snöwdog
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 15

posted      Profile for Snöwdog   Author's Homepage   Email Snöwdog   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
Snowdog,

I guess some people are interested in this subject that Tolkien took the time to write about, others see it as yadda-yadda.

Yeah...Duh. This may have gotten better traction el norte in the Reference forum since you had one line that pertained to the movies. []

(Edit: Athene - note no mention, dig, etc. at the collective [] )

[ 09-26-2015, 07:10 PM: Message edited by: Snöwdog ]

From: In the Shadows of Annuminas | Registered: Aug 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
faithfull
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 11417

posted      Profile for faithfull   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
Somebody bump this thread next week -

Is there a way to remind myself?

From: East of the sun, West of the moon | Registered: Oct 2014  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Create a New Topic  Reply to this Topic Minas Tirith Forums » New Line Cinema's Lord of the Rings » Death and Immortality
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic       The Red Arrow!       Admin Options: Make Topic Sticky   Close Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic

About  ~ • ~  Contact  ~ • ~  Minas Tirith  ~ • ~  F. A. Q.  ~ • ~  Help

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.6.1