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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:13 pm 
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One thing that's interesting about Unfinished Tales and the later volumes of History of Middle-Earth is Tolkien taking a self-critical eye toward certain aspects of the legendarium. There is more that could be talked about than I discuss, some of it seemingly pedantic like worries about the sun and moon. But I will focus on a few things related to aspects of Tolkien that are contentious nowadays.


The orcs
This is the most obvious one, because Tolkien said pretty explicitly they were a mistake - when discussing Tolkien and race, both people criticizing and defending him would do well to note this. Tolkien really thought an irredeemably evil race was a problem with the legendarium. Part of what makes the orcs difficult is their inconsistent portrayal - a lot of the time they’re basically mindless constructs. But then you have bits like the end of book IV where they seem like actual individuals, even sympathetic to a degree - which actually kind of makes the problem worse. As we know, Tolkien never quite worked out a way to square the circle without messing with fixed canon, but he put a lot of time into trying.

Númenórean Imperialism
While not as drastic as the attempted revision of the orcs, this is something Tolkien explores more later on. Passages in HoME and UT are clear that the proto-Dunlendings were treated terribly and their later enmity in the Third Age was at least partly understandable. Tolkien even says that there was an element of simple supremacist ideology in the Numenoreans labeling other men as “lower” than themselves. And Tal-Elmar is a very late aborted story from the perspective of the victims of Númenor.

It is important to note that contra some hostile readings, Tolkien had no love for the British Empire even earlier in his life - he was too premodern for that. And even earlier incarnations of the Númenórean story are at the very least ambivalent about the kingdom’s overseas ventures (though you can argue Gondor and Arnor have a soft imperialism implict in their founding). But regardless, he did re- examine this aspect of his world further.

Aldarion and Erendis
And then there’s this gem of a story that has unfortunately been basically forgotten. I think it can be read partly as a self-critique on gender - a story that shines a light on women who are left on the sidelines of all the male adventures (I of course realize that this is an oversimplification of Tolkien's depiction of women, especially when you include the First Age stories, but it's not entirely false). There is one speech where Erendis seems to voice this pretty explicitly, when she talks about how Númenórean men act as if they'll live forever while ignoring what their women want.

He has also been accused of idealizing his female characters at times. This probably has some grain of truth to it, but Erendis is a flawed female character in a human and well-developed way. I find Erendis the more sympathetic one though - she does become too bitter and harsh in the end, but only after putting up with Aldarion’s absences for decades and repeatedly forgiving him.

(On a side note, I find it interesting that one of Tolkien’s more direct references to sex is in the “my bed is cold” exchange - like he only feels the need to draw attention to it if it isn’t happening in a marriage).

And then I’ll go a step further and say A&E may even be a self-examination of Tolkien’s own marital imperfections. From Carpenter’s bio, his marriage was not always a Beren and Lúthien fairytale, and he could sometimes be distant and leave his wife isolated with his work. It’s not hard to see the parallels. If Beren and Lúthien is the idealized portrait of their courtship, Aldarion and Erendis could be the darker counterpart (exaggerated in the other direction of course, neither is strictly autobiographical).

I am being more speculative with A&E than the rest, but I don’t think my reading of it is too much of a stretch. Aldarion's adventures also have some tangential relevance to the theme of Númenórean imperialism, by the way.

Conclusion
I haven’t read that much secondary Tolkien scholarship (though I do own a couple of Flieger books, and of course Christopher has done a lot of scholarship himself), so i don’t know how much this has all been examined by Tolkien scholars.

To me, this only makes the legendarium richer, and that Tolkien was wiling to be self-critical later on makes me think more highly of him. Any thoughts?


Last edited by kzer_za on Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:24 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:55 pm 
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Nice post, k_z. We've had many discussions over the years (and across various different boards) about the dilemma of the irredeemable Orcs. When I get a chance I'll dig up my semi-tongue-in-cheek solution and post it again for your amusement.

I particularly liked your comments about Aldarion and Erendis, which I thought were quite insightful (I wonder whether the upcoming "Biopic" about Tolkien's life will at all address the less ideal aspects of his relationship with Edith). I was quite surprised and pleased to see that in the recent updated edition of Scull and Hammond's Tolkien Companion and Guide they quote a comment that I made on A&E:

Quote:
In his ‘Law and Arda’, Tolkien Studies 10 (2012), Douglas C. Kane calls Aldarion and Erendis ‘perhaps Tolkien’s most emotionally nuanced story, a tale of true love initially overcoming tremendous obstacles, only to eventually collapse under the weight of two prideful people with truly irreconcilable differences’. He notes also that the child of Aldarion and Erendis, Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor, ‘is described as having disastrous relationships with men, showing that Tolkien was well aware of how dysfunctional relationships tend to propagate themselves’ (p. 53).

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2018 11:09 am 
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Thanks Voronwë - anyone else have any thoughts? I might cross-post this elsewhere since things are slow nowadays.

To add to the "inconsistent orcs" (my new band name) pile, sometimes they seem to be a metaphor for dehumanization in modern society. Most notably Tolkien's statement in the foreword that there were "orcs on both sides" of WWII. (Not that he would say the Nazis and allies are absolutely morally equivalent, but certainly even the western allies did some pretty bad things to compromise themselves).


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