Reply to a J.R.R. Tolkien Wave

This is a reply to a J.R.R Tolkein wave

This wave extensive discussed freewill in Tolkien’s universe.


I want to reply at the end but cannot reply there because of problems with this wave. So this message will be out of sequence.
I have been sick and that gave me time to read the later Silmarillion. Last time I was sick about a year ago I read LotR for the first time. I had read the earlier The Silmarillion previously. It kept me engaged while I was suppose to be resting so it was good for me. After reading LotR I then watched the movies again to see how close they were to the Novels in the extended versions. Anyway I have developed a deep interest in Tolkien and started a while back to read the critical literature the best of which in my opinion is that of Verlyn Flieger.
I come at this whole subject from a very different direction than most readers. I have done an indepth study of the Western Tradition under the rubric of Ontomythology which is seen in my electronic book The Fragmentation of Being and the Path beyond the Void at In that book I study following Dumzil western mythology from an ontological perspective. My great discovery was that the kinds of Being discovered by Continental Philosophers such as Heidegger, Derrida, Merleau-Ponty was encoded in the in the Indo-European tradition as the differences between the Indo-European Gods from the very beginning of the Western worldview which reflected the class structure of Indo-European society. Thus we can interpret Indo-European myth ontologically. And that interpretation of the differences between the gods coded into myth is pretty much the same for all of the Indo-European societies.
Anyway because of this study I am more aware than most probably of the different Indo-European mythic complexes from different cultures. And I cannot help but read Tolkien in this light. I believe that Tolkien has much more to say about the Indo-European worldview in general than most of his fans and readers suspect. He was utterly immersed in Indo-European mythology in all its forms. And so his stories are not just reworkings of myths from our Indo-European heritage but commentaries on those myths and on the Indo-European worldview in general.
For instance there is in this message chain the thought bolstered by Tolkien himself that his mythology was ultimately Catholic he came to realize, because that was his upbringing. But there is in the reinterpretation of the myths something much deeper that needs to be appreciated. This was about the time that Franz Cumont was piecing together the story of Mithrism in Europe. Tolkien it seems to me is not specifically thinking about Norse mythology as the backdrop for his stories as Zoroastrian mythology. He specifically calls Gandalf Mithrandir. From this we can begin to work out the mapping to Indo-European mythology based on the Vedas and the Zoroastrian traditions and then work forward into the Greek tradition and then eventually see how that relates to the Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition.
In the Vedas Mithra-Varuna are the old gods being replaced by Indra. The vedas are hymns mostly and we do not know the myths of the relations of these gods directly from those hymns of praise. However, a student of Dumazil figured out that the Mahabharata was the myth of the battle of the Gods that was missing that lay behind the Vedas projected on a human plane. Thus the great battle scene in the Mahabharata of a great cosmic battle is the back drop of the ware of the gods (titanomachia) which appear in all the Indo-European tradition. This gets sharpened in Zoroastrianism into the battle of Ahura Mazda and Ahariman the Good and Evil Gods which are at war over the world in each moment. In Zoroastrianism they had a late cult called Zurvanism which said these two brother gods had a common father Zurvan which is associated with Cronos (Saturn). Mithra became the servant of Ahura Mazda who led the fighters of the forces of light against the forces of darkness. Of course, this war was very palpable for Tolkien during the first world war. Later Mithrism became a Greek Mystery religions with Persian symbols and that became the religion of the Roman army from its battles with Mithradies the third over the control of the Mediterranean. Even Later someone called Paul who was Tarsus, the home of Mithrism became the founder of the Christian religion that was about the of a little known Jewish apocalyptic preacher called Jesus of Nazareth. Paul who was himself a Jew wanted to take this message to the Gentiles and thus he set out to combine the what were at that time the only two universalist religions in the Roman empire, Mithrism and Messianic Judaism about the coming Kingdom of God on Earth. Mithrism was about leading the armies of light against the darkness, and Messanic Judaism was about the apocalypse of which Jesus r was the first fruits. In other words both Jesus and Paul thought it would happen very soon, in the lifetimes of their followers.
I believe that Tolkien saw this motif running through the Indo-European worldview of avatarism, the best example of which is Krishna who plays a central role in the Mahabharata as adviser to the Pandavas.. And also the deep myth of resurrection, which we see in Odin sacrificing himself to himself by hanging on a tree for nine days and nights in order to get the secret of the runes. I think that Tolkien saw this deeper motif and that lay behind the specifically Christian version of it and decided that this was the deeper meaning behind Christianity for him that then allowed him to attach his own Christian beliefs to the deeper and wider mythological stream of the Indo- European worldview.
When he talked CS Lewis into being a Christian he said that Christianity was a myth that was true. But this truth for him was a deep truth that is reflected in the full width and breadth of the Indo-European mythological tradition. And so to limit our critique of his ideas to just Christianity is to underestimate him greatly.
And because these structures that are reflected in the myth are still operative in our current worldview, it means that Tolkien is commenting on the deep structures of our present worldview as well which produces catastrophes like the First and Second world wars. Why do we have these great world wars occasionally as traced in the whole history of Middle Earth. It is because it is build into the worldview from the beginning. It is a cosmic war that must be repeated to prefigure the ultimate cosmic war of the Apocalypse.
I do not have a grasp on the complete picture that Tolkien is trying to give us by his reworking of Indo-European myth and thus its reinterpretation of it. But I think I at least have glimpsed the vast canvas upon which his reinterpretation was working. And I will try to share some of those insights with you as time permits. But my main message is that if you are really interested in Tolkien, you need to read a broad spectrum of Indo-European myth and study the work of Dumazil the preeminent scholar of cross cultural comparison of Indo-European myth. I am pretty sure there is not one key to understanding Tolkien, such as the fact that he was Catholic and that he realized he had Catholic themes in his work like the fall of man and elf. But rather his Catholicism pushed back to the dawn of the Indo-European tradition and read it in the myths of that dawn, in the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Iliad and Odyssey, and Greek myths, as well as Norse myths and folktales. I have just read an excellent book on Folktales by Max Luthi and from that we can see that Tolkien specifically transitioned between folktale and Legend elements in his work.
The key thing for me is that having just watched the PBS special on evolution, it is clear that there was a time not long ago when different kinds of humans were living side by side. And Tolkien’s work is an imaginary revisiting of that time when there were Others among which we lived that were very much like us but different species within the Homo line. The fact that they have discovered a species of human recently that was dwarf like Hobbits is an amazing thing which is giving Tolkien a laugh from beyond the grave at the prescience of his imagination. I think his imagination was prescient in other respects too. He is not being given the attention he deserves by literary scholars. But not just them, his fans are not taking up his own passions and studying Indo-European myth in detail and seeing the connections he was making between different mythic strata from different Indo-European cultures. These myths present the structure of our world which e keep repeating. World War One spawned World War two must as surely as Morgoth’s Battle spawned that of his servant Sauron. Tolkien’s history of middle earth is trying to tell us something about the inevitability of that. And I was surprised when I read the later Samillarion that he inserted more about emergence into that those later versions. And so he was aware of the dialectic between nihilism and emergence. But much of what he is saying I think must be understood in relation to what Deleuze says about Repetition and Representation in Difference and Repetition. So I think the readers of Tolkien to really understand him must also read some philosophy as well. Mythology by itself is not enough. And that is why I appeal to what I call Ontotmythology as a framework for understanding what Tolkien was alluding to in his artificial mythology which attempted to get at the proto-Indo-European mythological motifs.




Posted November 28, 2009 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: