Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Historicism and Providence of Middle-Earth

The Historicism and Providence of Middle-Earth, Third Draft

by Ryan Haecker

[This is the third draft of an essay on the historicism of Middle-Earth. It is 6,000 words and 15 pages in length. Please send any comments or criticisms you may have to I will make final revisions and corrections before submitting the essay for publication.]

J.R.R. Tolkien's mythopoeia is a philosophical enterprise in-and-through the vehicle of myth. In the essay On Faerie Stories Tolkien acknowledges the essential limitation of propositions, or "a net of words" to describe "the nature of Faërie."[1] In response to the limitations of words and propositions, Tolkien like Plato employs the power myth to let fly the encumbered imagination:[2] "Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds."[3] Tolkien shares in Plato's purpose of humbling his reader to re-conceive of those things which they had presumed to know; not through a dialectical contradiction of ideas, but through fantastic myth-making which illustrates the mystery and majesty of being.[4] By entering the sub-created world of Middle-Earth, the readers' idea of being, which has hitherto been dominated by the understanding, is intruded upon by novelties of mystery and majesty: mystery interrupts the readers' explanatory ratiocinations and majesty summons forth their latent powers of imagination. The enchantment of imagination, rather than the speculative understanding of ideas, is the philosophic end of Tolkien's mythopoeia. This philosophic end of enchantment is to inspire readers with a sense of wonder and humility towards being.[5] This is achieved through the dramatic interplay of history and myth which become inseparably united for the reader's imagination in the sub-created world of Middle-Earth.

The mythopoeia of J.R.R. Tolkien describes the history of thesub-created cosmos of Eä. A sub-created world is an idea of a secondary world which has been imaginatively created through the intellective powers of creatures, or through the minds of created beings within the primary world. As the mythopoeia of Middle-Earth is said to transpire in the distant past and is yet disclosed to the present through the Red Book of Westmarch, we may understand that Tolkien intended to problematize the boundary between the primary and the secondary world - between history and myth.[6] Through the sub-created interplay of history and myth, the conceptual boundary between the primary and the secondary world becomes porous and permeable. As a consequence, the secondary world may through the activity of the reader's imagination exert some influence upon the reader's idea of history and reality, and thus inspire the reader with an enchanted appreciation of the primary world.

The theme of the history in Tolkien's mythopoeia rests beneath the panoply of sights and sounds, like a barely discernible baritone which blasts its horn in the recollections of stories and songs. Historical remembrances of antique things pierce through the panoply of the present, peek into the narrative, to enchant the imagination of the reader. As the Lord of the Rings develops from the initial intrigues of Hobbiton to a global strategic conflict for the future of Middle Earth, the reader finds the limited ordeals of the Fellowship to be merely a microcosm of the universal historical drama of Middle Earth. The overthrow of Sauron appears to bring a conclusive end to the cosmic theogany of Eä - a battle amongst the gods which began before the creation of Middle-Earth and the cosmos of Eä. The theogany of Eä, between the rebellious servants of Dark Lord and the faithful Children of Ilúvatar, had its conception amidst the angelic Ainur before the creation of the cosmos and had thereafter continued cyclically and intermittently throughout the whole history Middle-Earth. As the historical drama of the Third Age draws to its conclusion, its part within the symbolic concert rises to a crescendo, and the historicism of Middle-Earth is heard to contribute a central theme to the sub-created movement of mankind's providential restoration.

In the Third Age of Middle-Earth there appear many modern themes, such as industrialism, eugenics and scientific rationalism, which both allude to the distinctive characteristics of the modern world as well as its unique historical perspective. In the Third Age the characters of The Lord of the Ringsperceive the history of Middle-Earth from a similar late historical perspective as we children of modernity have upon our past. If the First Age recalls an antediluvian or Homeric era of springtime Elves and heroic first Men, and the Second Age bespeaks of a classical age of expansive empires, then the Third Age more resembles a dissolute age of pygmies rather than of heroes and of social decline rather than of imperial grandeur. In consideration of this late historical perspective,the Lord of the Rings can be read as a distinctly modern myth whose splendid achievement was to have replied to our contemporary intellectual burdens of rationalism, scientism and disenchantment with a majestic mythical history of Middle-Earth.

Download:To download the full PDF-file of the essay, please select the link below:

OFS = Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories"

[1] OFS: "The definition of a fairy-story—what it is, or what it should be—does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible."

[2] Seung, T.K. Methods of Philosophy: "Thus Plato’s philosophy has turned out to be a heavy mixture of dialectical science and poetry. The dialectical method performs only the negative (critical) function of his philosophy, but its positive function is left for the poetic method."

[3] OFS p.23: This is an allusion to Plato's dialogue the Theaetaetus in which Socrates describes ideas through the metaphor of birds in a cage.

[4] Nagy: “Saving the Myths: the Recreation of Mythology in Plato and Tolkien.” p. 82: "[Plato] used myth, not only by way of interpretation and reflection, but even by writing some myths himself, assigning to them an important part in his dialogs." "Like Tolkien, he gives thought to myth, transforming and reshaping it to suit his purposes. Both authors stand in a tradition of relating to myth, which they both knew they could not disregard... integrating myth into their own inventory of discourses."

[5] McPartland p.15: "The sense of wonder is openness to what is beyond the everyday, a marvel at things beyond... Aristotle, we might recall, identifies wonder as the source of all science, especially the highest science, namely wisdom, and can see ―the lover of myth as in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.1, 980a, 1.2, 982b18)"

[6] OFS p.15: "Of course the borders between them are often fluctuating or confused; but that is not only true for children. We all know the differences in kind, but we are not always sure how to place anything that we hear."

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