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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 12:29 pm 
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Well, much has passed here since I last posted! I’m quite rusty at getting my thoughts organized, and I’ve been gazing at this unwieldy post with a mixture of bemusement and horror, trying to figure out how to make it more sensible. I like Sassy’s idea of grouping her ideas under titles, so I’m going to shamelessly copy her….just because I can. :D

Warning: We're definitely heading for Osgiliath. 8)

Sass wrote:
forgive me, but I think implicit in the order of your words is the notion that 'melodrama' is a part of Tolkien's 'relentless hopelessness'.


Melodrama?


Well, yes. I do think that melodrama is a part of the 'relentless hopelessness' of the Sil's "history" of the Elves. It is myth, and myth is most often melodramatic, IMO. Myth exaggerates pretty much every aspect of the human condition: love, hate, sacrifice, fear, courage, honor, envy, greed - you name it. Fingolfin's ride is most certainly melodramatic, and it is also most certainly “acceptable within the parameters of that war”. But if you take it out of the realm of myth, what do you have? A man driven by rage and despair, who is no longer capable of rational thought, a man bent on a suicidal mission, riding towards blind and futile vengeance. He is, quite simply, nuts. At least he would be in the “real world”, and I really believe he would be in LOTR’s world as well. That is not at all like Théoden, at least, not to me (I’m just going to leave it at that, as we’re on the outskirts of Osgiliath already!)

And getting back to Sam…..well, imagine if he had pulled a Fingolfin at Cirith Ungol. Imagine if he succumbed to his grief and rage and hopelessness and went charging off to go “mano a mano” with Gollum, or had thrown himself over the precipice in the ultimate act of despair. Sam knows what those choices are – self-indulgent and useless. He chooses the hardest path – to go on, in spite of all the horror and sorrow that burdens him. As he rejects the Ring itself, weighing him down and tempting him with the release of glorious omnipotence, Sam rejects the temptations of “sweet” vengeance and “welcome” oblivion. It brings to mind, if you’ll forgive the reference, something Dumbledore says in the Harry Potter series that firmly lodged itself in my memory from the moment I read it: most often, we do not make a conscious choice between what is right and what is wrong, but “between what is right and what is easy”. You wouldn’t want old Fingolfin to get his hands on the Ring. I have no doubt that he would take the easy path, but by god, it would be one magnificently apocalyptic ride. :horse:

You know, this is what kind of irks me about my own response to Tolkien’s most gloriously heroic passages. They really get to me. They suck me into a vacuum of savage, brutal beauty, where there is little room for thought amid a swirling maelstrom of reactionary emotion. I know better. I know that Fingolfin’s ride is a mad, self-destructive act. I know that the Rohirrim singing as they slaughter is, well……psychopathic. It’s funny isn’t it, that these passages that are written in such high language and evoke such vaulted. stirring emotion, actually appeal to what I consider the lower levels of my human nature. Go figure.

After our discussion of the Sil came to an end, I read LOTR again, and it felt like such a relief, such a refreshing and joyous relief, to walk with the small and humble again through Middle-earth. Thank goodness for hobbits. Thank goodness for the balance they bring to all that high and glorious melodrama that Tolkien so compellingly offers us in the Sil (as well as many parts of LOTR). Under all those flashing swords and streaming banners and stirring speeches, there’s the mundane reality of Merry crawling through the mire, sick with blind terror, and Pippin yearning to see “cool sunlight and green grass” as the hosts of Sauron rush towards him. No Elf from the Sil could make his or her way across Gorgoroth without a healthy dose of melodrama, let’s face it. But there’s nothing melodramatic about Sam and Frodo gratefully drinking the foul, oily water of Mordor, or Sam’s heartbreaking decision to throw away his beloved cooking pots, or Frodo’s simple, wordless act of taking Sam’s hand after hearing all that his friend has been through. If I had to, I’d trade in all the grand triumph and tragedy of the Sil for those moments with the hobbits, I really would.

The Long Defeat

Sass wrote:
I must take a bit of umbrage over “relentless hopelessness of his thematic Long Defeat”. It's all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, every descriptive word you use is true, however I, for one, am immeasurably moved by the concept of 'Long' and 'Defeat'. The realization that this brilliant, melancholic, profoundly artistic, deeply-convicted race is doomed to a destiny of eternal sadness, regardless of root cause, cannot change the direction of one single footstep. It is because the Elves have no choice that I find their doom unutterably tragic.



Quote:
"For the Lord of the Galadrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat."


Now there’s a passage from LOTR that moved me right from my first reading! It was one of those times I knew a curtain that veiled a deep and ancient past had been momentarily lifted. I yearned for the publication of the Sil because of passages like that. :love:

I can absolutely understand your take on those words, Sass. They are so lovely and sad, and thinking about it, I liked them better when I knew less about Tolkien, and trusted more in my own limited sense of his world. For years, I interpreted them very narrowly, understanding them to mean something like “the failing guard” against the will and force of Sauron. Galadriel’s words applied to herself and Lothlórien, as they gradually and inexorably weakened and faded against the encroaching shadow. But as my view of Tolkien’s world expanded and changed, so did my interpretation: I have two, actually – one I feel comfortable with, and one that I don’t really like at all.

But first of all, I’d like to address your thoughts. I remember from our Sil conversations how deeply intrigued and moved you were by the idea that the Eldar are rigidly and irrevocably bound by the Music – that they carry this burden that gets heavier and heavier as the ages pass, that they wear a chain that’s linked all the way back to the discords of Melkor, and before that, to the very designs of Eru. But what if there had been no discords? What if the Music was played all the way through, harmonious and joyful and lovely, just as the Second Music supposedly will be played? The Elves would still have no choice but to be bound to it and shaped by it, so would their doom still be tragic? They would still not be able to escape Time, but would that still be considered their millstone? Would predestined eternal bliss be a burden and a chain? I sure don’t know what the answer is, but I am sure that it wouldn’t make for a very good story. One of David Byrne’s lyrics keeps running through my mind as I think about this: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” Notice that Tolkien doesn’t dwell on the Vanyar doing whatever it is they do back in Aman. I wonder if the Vanyar also feel the weight of eternal sadness. I wonder if eternal life is pretty much the same thing. I wonder if eternity itself is the weight.

You've got me thinking big thoughts, Sass. :hug:

What do I think the long defeat means now? Well, my personal preference is to think of it in a more circular, rather than linear way. To me, it’s rooted in the idea of beginnings and endings, of gains and losses. One age must end so that another can begin. One kindred must fade so that another can rise. Every journey starts with leaving something behind. An eternal cycle of ebb and flow, wax and wane – the way of the earth itself. But more than anything, I guess I view the long defeat as being rooted in our need (as both Elves and Men) to love. This is the sadness we all understand, the sadness that must be part of our lives because we all must lose some place, some thing, someone that we love. We all have to say good-bye, but even those endings begin something new. I’m more than sure that this wasn’t Tolkien’s intention, although much in LOTR, especially in its final chapters, speaks to me in these terms. In a way, we’re back to Sam again, lamenting the departure of the Elves and the ending of an Age at the beginning of the book, and on the final page, walking towards a future made possible by what has passed away.

But I said that Tolkien’s thematic long defeat was relentless and made me cranky, so I guess I should (finally) get to that. And here’s where sometimes knowing too much and thinking too long can be dangerous. After such a long and detailed discussion of the Sil, after looking at it so closely and analyzing it so thoroughly, I re-read it straight through, along with the accompanying Akallabêth, and something felt…..unsettling, even oppressive. The long defeat just seemed to mean the never-ending war against evil, where battles could be won, but never for long, where every single living thing was marred – targets for corruption, decay and diminishment. Oh I know, the Sil wouldn’t be the Sil without those elements. I love the myth, but something goes off for me right at the end. I’ve decided that I don’t like the ending of the Sil. I think theological considerations molded it, and rather than letting the myth play out with the inclusion of the Second Prophesy, Tolkien’s Catholic faith won out. He wrote in a letter:

Quote:
Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.


I like your interpretation better, Sass. And mine. I don’t much like the idea of one long, never-ending struggle against evil, and being constantly reminded that the “dark seeds” of Morgoth will never cease to find fertile ground. I’ll say it again – thank goodness for LOTR, Thank goodness for Sam the gardener, who knows that winter must always surrender to spring, and that shadows are but passing things. That’s the greatest thing, to me, about that moment when he looks up at the star. That star could symbolize the defeat of Sauron, or the remaking of Arda itself in the “final victory” that Tolkien wrote of, or maybe it’s God, or goodness itself, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have to see it in any of those ways. I can see it as Sam’s belief, his deep-down belief in the world that sustains him. It's his belief in the story that he and Frodo are part of. The world is a wonder, stars are a wonder, and they will carry on, long after our own little journeys are over and others are walking those paths. We should find hope and joy in that.

Now, let’s leave Osgiliath and get back to Cirith Ungol.

I have thoroughly enjoyed everyone's thoughts on Sam's song, and was particularly struck with something Jny wrote:

Quote:
This ... singing in the Tower of Cirith Ungol ... this is really important, imo. Important to the book and important to the gift that Sassy has given us with this thread.

{snip}

Sartre once wrote that there are only two possible “good faith” responses to the human condition: laughter, or suicide. If I might tweak that a bit: song, or suicide.

This song in the Tower is the song of humanity which, seeing defeat ... (the unavoidable defeat that is the human condition of all of us) ... says “yes” anyway. Sings anyway. Even in the face of inevitable death,
{snip}

Think what it means to be confronting Mordor and your answer is to sing! What sovereignty in that choice!


This very much reminds me of Éowyn's laugh as she stands before the Witchking. This is so close to how I feel about that moment, but I've never found words to describe it. Thank-you. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 1:57 pm 
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Although I haven't managed to find the words I wanted to post anything of much worth here, I have been following this very moving thread, and I would like to entend my best wishes to Sassafras, with whom I am privileged to share a birthday! I wish I could have come to know you under better circumstances.

I just wanted to make a small contribution to the thread, since the topic has turned to Sam's song. The melody composed by Stephen Oliver for the BBC adaptation has always been a favourite of mine, and although I couldn't find a version without the dialogue, here is the dramatized version from the 1981 serialization: (It appears roughly 3 and 1/2 minutes into the track)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItvowqaqnL0



Whilst searching, I also came across this video about Sam's song, which may be of interest:

Quote:
I noticed a remarkable similarity between a Finnish (originally Swedish) hymn "Koska valaissee kointähtönen" and Tolkien's "In Western Lands beneath the Sun" (sung by Sam in Mordor, from The Lord of the Rings). They're thematically quite alike: a person on a nightly journey knows that the star(s) are still shining, even though he can't see the light, and won't give up his hope of seeing the source of the illumination. I translated the first two stanzas of this hymn by Anders Odhelius (1745, translated to Finnish first in 1790) to English...It is accompanied by the Finnish version. ... The melody is a variant from the region of Savo (adapted by Ahti Sonninen). Quite serendipitously, it also fits well into the Finnish melody. I first sing the hymn in English, then the original Finnish and finally Tolkien's poem


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1lQE8SwO0k

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 2:06 pm 
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And didn't Bill Nighy do it marvellous justice?

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:22 pm 
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Yes, Tosh, he was superb...as was the whole cast...so many "Greats" who are sadly no longer with us.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:44 pm 
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Ath is right--myth and epic are more about the grand emotional gesture than the nuance of mimesis. It's one reason (among several) I think LOTR has been deeply successful in a way the Sil isn't, and will never be: too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams. One suspects JRRT realized this on some level, and that it helped contribute to the endless revision. In some ways, the bulk of pre-hobbit material has come to feel to me as if it's all "writing to the beginning." Some of it has power, and some of it is satisfying, but it's not of a whole in the same way as LOTR.

Osgiliath, I know.

Ath, I think JRRT had both long defeats in mind, nor do I think they were separable for him. The nature of the fallen world is, for a believer, sad on both the cosmic and personal levels, a sort of fractal where no matter the length of focus, the pattern of loss--and the hope of redemption--is the same. It reminds me a bit of Blake, for whom time was a blessed curse--it's a fallen state, and thus the only state in which redemption can be had.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:02 pm 
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ax wrote:
Ath, I think JRRT had both long defeats in mind, nor do I think they were separable for him
.

You're most likely right, ax. I swear, I'm not going to read the Akallabêth again. It shouldn't trump my reconcilation with a kinder concept of the long defeat.

Ah, Blake...."the world in a grain of sand, eternity in an hour". I think there is a lot in Blake that could apply to the nature of the Eldar and their relationship with time.

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too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams


Yes, exactly! :D

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:11 pm 
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Athrabeth!, :love:

Your post may take a detour to Osgiliath, but what a detour it is. And there are marvels and wonders along the way that sadly, I have no time to examine right this very instant.

< I cannot stop because my disease calls and so I must rush of to a Nuclear Imaging Facility and subject myself to a bone scan,> but I did want to pull this out of your lovely post and say, exactly so!, Ath. Your words are perfect, you have precisely captured how I feel about the Sil and why (for me, and you) LotR resonates so much more.

Thank you.

Quote:
After our discussion of the Sil came to an end, I read LOTR again, and it felt like such a relief, such a refreshing and joyous relief, to walk with the small and humble again through Middle-earth. Thank goodness for hobbits. Thank goodness for the balance they bring to all that high and glorious melodrama that Tolkien so compellingly offers us in the Sil (as well as many parts of LOTR). Under all those flashing swords and streaming banners and stirring speeches, there’s the mundane reality of Merry crawling through the mire, sick with blind terror, and Pippin yearning to see “cool sunlight and green grass” as the hosts of Sauron rush towards him. No Elf from the Sil could make his or her way across Gorgoroth without a healthy dose of melodrama, let’s face it. But there’s nothing melodramatic about Sam and Frodo gratefully drinking the foul, oily water of Mordor, or Sam’s heartbreaking decision to throw away his beloved cooking pots, or Frodo’s simple, wordless act of taking Sam’s hand after hearing all that his friend has been through. If I had to, I’d trade in all the grand triumph and tragedy of the Sil for those moments with the hobbits, I really would.


*******

Elentári, your kind words are much appreciated, but do please stay a while and join the conversation. :)

edit: Oh, and what Ax said about too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams. Talk about a succinct summation! :D

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Ever mindful of the maxim that brevity is the soul of wit, axordil sums up the Sil:


"Too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams."

Yes.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:11 am 
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So much written since I last was here!

I am very tardy in wishing you a happy birthday, Sass - I do think of everybody by their screen name! That's just how I got to know everybody! Even when I know their real name. I wonder, maybe it is a kind of an Entish thing, where there is more than one name for a person, with different meanings ... hmmm, there may be a thought there. It hasn't really sprouted yet, though, so I have nothing more to say right now!

There is not a single book that I've read that's come even close to involving me as much as The Lord of the Rings did. Even re-reading it for maybe the 24th time, it still grips me better than many books I read for the first time.

The Elves. In the First Age, they are so much greater than the typical human - I mean, their scope is so much wider. And then, in The Lord of the Rings, they are as a whole not concerned with Middle-Earth anymore. Again, they are beyond me - beyond us mere humans. It isn't in our nature not to care. We care about our surroundings, we set one foot before another because that is all that we know to do. We were born to scurry busily through life in a way that Elves weren't, so to say. :D It is the quick, the changing, with us, and the slow fading, the preoccupation, the inward look, with the Elves. They are still hard for me to connect with like - well, like Sam.

Not that I don't like them!

I'm going back and forth on Sam. On the one hand, Sam is a very good conduit for intuition, I think. Just think of him turning back to follow Frodo to Mordor! But still, I wonder if he didn't found his understanding of Elves on Bilbo's old stories, too. Bilbo knows about Elves too ... although, you know, you could be right about Sam. Certainly in the books Bilbo isn't portrayed as especially understanding of the "why" of Elves, the way Sam was. Then again, he was getting on in years when we meet him again in Rivendell. The ring had ceased its preserving influence on him. He seemed a little ... flippant ... about the Elves, sometimes. Maybe it is Bilbo instead of Sam who should be described as a little "smug" ;)

Now, as for Sam not being a banker or an accountant - thank goodness! :D I think you are right, if he was a blacksmith or a miller, chances are the results would have been the same. Hmmm, maybe not a miller, if Ted was anything to go by ;)

And actually - a thought occurs. A miller, even a Hobbit miller, has some interest in tools, wheels, cogs, mechanical things. A blacksmith bends things to his will. We know that Tolkien did not think too kindly of machinery and industry. Well, maybe Sam would still have been the same, and maybe not. The Shire seems so deeply rooted in natural things, in the earth, and that is the realm of the gardener.

The point is well made, though. Pippin and Merry were Hobbits of a different standing: well off, gentlemen. And they were, both of them, attracted to the - for lack of a better word - pomp and grandeur of Men. Merry stood by Rohan and Pippin by Gondor. No gardener of the Shire, I think, would find such a draw in the White City or the Golden Hall. No indeed, I cannot see Sam being loyal to anything but the Shire, where he settled down even as Merry and Pippin travelled more.

How much did Sam really change, though? Was the Sam who climbed Mount Doom so changed from the Sam who couldn't bear to hear about Mr. Frodo going away? I would agree somewhat with tinwë here - the world changed, as well. Sure, the Sam who didn't want to be turned into "something unnatural" couldn't be the Sam who were Major of the Shire, but I think what brings Sam such success in the end is the very fact that he was not much changed. He was still a Hobbit of the Shire. Dare we say that he was still confident of his place in the world, and content with it? [ I grew up in a culture that placed quite a bit of emphasis on "your place" and where society was kind of hierarchical, that kind of stuff. You try and be free of it and at the strangest times it returns - and sometimes it is comforting to be reminded of old patterns of thought. Maybe that's how it is with Sam. He knows he is of the Shire in a way Merry and Pippin does not. Anyway, I digress. ]



Okay, lagging little me now pauses before your next splendid post, Sass. This is the one I've been looking forward to, because I have things to say about it. Again I think I'll initially respond to you without reading further posts, else I'll get muddled up!

I think it was perceptive of you to notice, for lack of a better phrase, the hand of Eru in the narrative. At this point, for me at least, I'm so caught up in the story and so rooting on Sam in his small victories, in his practicality of finding a disguise, finding water, and so on, that I missed connecting those dots.

I don't think it is inconsistent with Tolkien's world that these small nudges are given. They are more on par with setting forth with Gandalf and Isuldur's heir in your party - you know, a more level playing ground. By which I mean: the main choices and the brunt of the work is up to the characters, up to Frodo and Sam. Frodo decides to go to Mordor, as he must, because the Ring is at work on the Company - and Sam decides to follow and see it through, as he must. Aragorn is beset with doubt and bemoans the fact that his choices go astray. I wonder what Aragorn's motivations are. We know why he goes on the quest - but what did he plan to do with the Ring? He claimed the palantír and used it, probably against Gandalf's wishes. It turned out well for the company because it drew Sauron into haste. But what of the Ring? Aragorn was coming into his own and claiming his dues as King. What of the Ring? If Bilbo and Frodo were meant to have it, maybe Aragorn was meant to make the choices that split their paths off from that of the Fellowship. Maybe Aragorn would have failed like Frodo, in the end, did, and laid claim to the Ring. And Aragorn did not have Sam.

Maybe - and this is a kind of a bleak thought - Sam was simply the most malleable, the most easily influenced, member of the party, and after he and Frodo were nudged away from the rest of the Fellowship, he could become the instrument to use in destroying the Ring.

I don't like to think of it like that, though.

I don't have a problem accepting a series of small guidances given to Sam. Sauron's mind is bent on his forces, and he guides them. Surely all players are allowed to?

Gandalf? Now there's an intriguing thought. Although Gandalf says that Frodo and Sam has passed beyond his reach ... and Gandalf is actually the one who knows first that the eagles are coming:

As if to his eyes some sudden vision had been given, Gandalf stirred; and he turned looking back north where the skies were pale and clear.

Yes, even Gandalf.

It seems as if the premise of the quest itself allows for these ripples: the Ring is taken to be destroyed, not to be wielded. I do not think that a quest to set it up in Gondor as an opposing force to Sauron would have come close to succeeding, meaning, I don't think the Ring would even have reached Minas Tirith, because I don't think these soft notes of guidance would have been given.

What about the Eagles, though? I think a few Eagles are not too much to endure as a cap on the great achievement of the Company. ;) How do a writer keep his readers' attention through a rescue mission - storming into Mordor and picking over ground we have already travelled? The Eagles do not bother me. :D [ I pulled Sauron Defeated from my shelf to see if, maybe, Tolkien had brought in the Eagles later, but no, he did not. There's some interesting material concerning the Eagles mentioned, though. ]

If I have to say, I wouldn't say I'm of an deterministic bend, and the thought of an outside force working on Sam doesn't bother me at all. Strange, isn't it? If anything, I think I lean towards Free Will, and yet, I'm not bothered by the thought of Sam being nudged to do things. This is partly because I want to believe that anybody has the right to bend themselves from a path they don't wish to travel, especially if it is a path that gives them sorrow. But still, I am not bothered by Sam receiving some guidance, either. It is not as if he is bent to a path he didn't want. At most, the path is straightened out a little, some of the rocks removed. Does belief come into it? Hmmm, probably. I don't believe strongly in God-given guidance, though. I think people are, mostly, on their own with their own minds to guide them. It isn't something I give too much thought to, because I'm not interested in imposing my views on others, and because I am comfortable with what I think!

So, there's a jumble of thoughts! I could expand, but ... I will be back for the rest of the thread later. I enjoy reading your posts first and responding to them, even if what I say may already be adressed ( or invalidated! ) by later posts. It is my poor substitute for not being able to be an early responder. Alas, I work too hard and *almost loses post because cat perched between keyboard and screen suddenly needs to groom her elbow and thus places foot on keyboard at random, pressing all kinds of function keys*

Yikes! I may just have been gently prodded to stop writing and just post. :D


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 3:28 pm 
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Sam starts out as almost a child. His behaviour when caught by Gandalf seems childish to me unless it was a defence of sorts by a quick witted spy! But I think not. We see him grow in maturity through the story.
If I had to say there was a moment when he grows up I would say in Moria when he kills an orc.

Quote:
A fire was smouldering in his brown eyes that would have made Ted Sandyman step backwards, if he had seen it.


I say that much as I hate the Hemingway belief in killing as validation.

Hmm I just wondered if that Sandyman reference is too early in the narrative. It's not until Lórien that Sam is given cause for active hostility though it's clear from the start that they are no friends of one another.

A perceptive comment about his trade compared to others Griffy. A gardener works with nature not against it.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:10 pm 
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I'd say Sam's true maturity came in Mordor when he lost hope, but kept going anyway.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:02 pm 
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This thread moved well past me but I just scanned through the last few pages and while I have nothing to add to the actual topic (asides from more "I :love: Sam"s :P) I felt the urgent need to give some very hearty :grouphug: to the thread.

:grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug: :grouphug:

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 11:28 pm 
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Griff wrote:
And actually - a thought occurs. A miller, even a Hobbit miller, has some interest in tools, wheels, cogs, mechanical things. A blacksmith bends things to his will. We know that Tolkien did not think too kindly of machinery and industry. Well, maybe Sam would still have been the same, and maybe not. The Shire seems so deeply rooted in natural things, in the earth, and that is the realm of the gardener.


All true! Yet a gardener bends according to his or her will as well. The very earth is changed: dug, amended, set into place. Plants, whose only native directive is growth and reproduction, are shaped toward new, human purposes by the gardener. Some are removed, and some are clipped, and some are coaxed into a glory far beyond their natural states. It is the purpose and will of plants that a gardener cultivates that sets this occupation apart from the others. The blacksmith must deal with metal, which may be tricky, and have its own rules and perils, but it is not alive. Smithing is science, while gardening is art. The garden is a performance, a collaboration between vegetation and human. Sometimes we are the artist, and the vegetation the audience, and sometimes it is the other way around.

What does this mean for Sam? Maybe little, for the occupation is not identical with the human, or the hobbit. I can imagine a gardener taking the ring and laying waste to the earth. But Sam loves his trees, and the quiet gardens of the Shire. Even were he a miller, or a smith, he would be the same if he loved those gardens. That is the soul of Sam.

How does a gardener think about the world? The gardener must observe. Identify and understand what a growing thing is, so that it can be dealt with. Gollum is a weed! He must be pulled. Frodo is a tree, cherished, tended, shielded from the wind, but never shaped to the gardener's will. Faramir is an unexpected new growth, and Sam must judge, poison or good. He is divided in his mind, and judges wrongly first, then rightly by mistake.

A gardener must persevere. The weeds always come back. There are always new holes to be dug. Each day brings a new sky, of sun or rain or cold or wind, conditions that must be accounted for. There is a goal, but it changes every day. The garden is never finished. The gardener just goes on working and digging until the day that he dies. And so it is with Sam, for every step and stumble to Mordor.


nobody wrote:
What about the taters?


I always thought the humble potato was the perfect vegetable to identify with Sam. The potato does not fit into Middle Earth, because it is a New World crop, but it does fit perfectly with Sam. Sam is earthy and starchy, just like a potato.


Tosh wrote:
If I had to say there was a moment when he grows up I would say in Moria when he kills an orc.


Wampus wrote:
I'd say Sam's true maturity came in Mordor when he lost hope, but kept going anyway.


Both wrong! Hobbits reach maturity when they start growing fur on their feet.


Jn wrote:
The song matters because it is without provision. There is no calculation to it. It is pure heart-choice. It is Sam, free as only a human (or hobbit) can be free. One can believe in the inspiration of providence if one wishes, but the song need have no cause other than Sam himself. He sings not because he has mastered the terms of his life but because the terms of his life cannot master him. Whatever comes. He sings because he can.


It's like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas!

Well, those posts deserve a better response than that, but that's what I was suddenly reminded of.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:22 am 
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Sam would be more a turnip than a tater, really. Still rooted in the earth, and a little pungent. ;)


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So many wonderful things written while I was away, which I have as yet only had an opportunity to scan. Thank you very much to all who have contributed to making this such an incredible discussion. I want to particularly thank my old friend Jnyusa for her contributions.

Honestly, I'm not sure I have much to add at this point. Sass and Ath in particular have answered my thoughts so eloquently and effectively, and Faramond has largely said what I would have said further in response.

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Hoom. I have been trying to respond to all of you for the entire week, only <whine> it has been an insane few days what with scans of my brain, bones and every other part unmentionable, plus infusions and office visits and blood draws and .... and .... :x

Meanwhile:

Athrabeth wrote:
Quote:
But what if there had been no discords? What if the Music was played all the way through, harmonious and joyful and lovely, just as the Second Music supposedly will be played? The Elves would still have no choice but to be bound to it and shaped by it, so would their doom still be tragic? They would still not be able to escape Time, but would that still be considered their millstone? Would predestined eternal bliss be a burden and a chain? I sure don’t know what the answer is, but I am sure that it wouldn’t make for a very good story. One of David Byrne’s lyrics keeps running through my mind as I think about this: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” Notice that Tolkien doesn’t dwell on the Vanyar doing whatever it is they do back in Aman. I wonder if the Vanyar also feel the weight of eternal sadness. I wonder if eternal life is pretty much the same thing. I wonder if eternity itself is the weight?



You know, I want to respond to that question with a decided Yes! yes it would! Their doom would be boring in the extreme were there no dissonance coursing through the music. Yet it would still be a Doom because, for there to be no discord Melkor could not have rebelled in the same way (or at all?) and hence would not have cursed the Elves or swore to conquer and enslave them. And yes, I had paid attention to the scant attention Tolkien pays ( does not pay) to the Vanyar. If, perchance, all is sweet and loving, and the Trees cast their blissful Light over Arda (I'll ignore the Lamps for the sake of argument) the world would be in stasis and it would be dull, dull, dull! We humans require action, do we not? wafting about in a state of eternal bliss strikes me as a fate worse than death. How do we define ourselves without struggle?

Is eternity itself the weight? Maybe so. If eternity is perfection incarnate (well, I'm sorry, but my brain just refuses to go there) I can't conceive of Not-time and so I'll ask another question: Can there be art without conflict?

More from Ath:
Quote:
What do I think the long defeat means now? Well, my personal preference is to think of it in a more circular, rather than linear way. To me, it’s rooted in the idea of beginnings and endings, of gains and losses. One age must end so that another can begin. One kindred must fade so that another can rise. Every journey starts with leaving something behind. An eternal cycle of ebb and flow, wax and wane – the way of the earth itself. But more than anything, I guess I view the long defeat as being rooted in our need (as both Elves and Men) to love.


I've never really considered the Long Defeat in any way other than linear. These circular movements you describe are, I think, still contained within the line that begins by the waters of Cuiviénen and will continue on through Míriel, through Fëanor, the Silmarils and the Oath ( those are the defining events of Elven history) and they create a pretty straight line inexorably moving to an eventual end of which Tolkien is deliberately vague, vague despite Finrod speaking to resolution in the Athrabeth. My saying this does not mean that I think you are wrong, on the contrary, all life, even Elven life, circles around on it self as patterns like spirals (some discernible, some not) ........it's just that I see those circles joined linearly. The Long Defeat is a progression, imo, and yes, the need to love ( a gorgeous insight, Ath!) is the stuff that drives it forward. I especially like this:


Quote:
In a way, we’re back to Sam again, lamenting the departure of the Elves and the ending of an Age at the beginning of the book, and on the final page, walking towards a future made possible by what has passed away.
 

Sam and Rosie Cotton and little Elanor, living at Bag End. :love:

Quote:
That star could symbolize the defeat of Sauron, or the remaking of Arda itself in the “final victory” that Tolkien wrote of, or maybe it’s God, or goodness itself, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have to see it in any of those ways. I can see it as Sam’s belief, his deep-down belief in the world that sustains him. It's his belief in the story that he and Frodo are part of. The world is a wonder, stars are a wonder, and they will carry on, long after our own little journeys are over and others are walking those paths. We should find hope and joy in that.
 
Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?”


Sam's realization that he and Frodo are part of a larger story that is still going on is a wonder and a marvel.
I remember how moved I was when I understood what he was saying: The road goes forever on. The great cosmic inter-connectedness of all things in the universe remind me that we too, “ have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it “ and in our tale, the one we all share, we are made of the stuff of stardust and I do find hope and joy in that.

************


Griffy wrote:
Quote:
Certainly in the books Bilbo isn't portrayed as especially understanding of the "why" of Elves, the way Sam was. Then again, he was getting on in years when we meet him again in Rivendell. The ring had ceased its preserving influence on him. He seemed a little ... flippant ... about the Elves, sometimes. Maybe it is Bilbo instead of Sam who should be described as a little "smug"
 

:shock: You know, Griff, I think you are quite right. What an acute observation; isn't it marvelous how one person's insight can add more substance to the book we all ( I assume) we know inside out?  He does seem a little 'flippant' in his interaction with Elves, even Elrond himself.

And, I hardly know what to make of him suddenly springing up with the suggestion

“ Say no more! It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself.”

Now if that isn't 'mentally myopic', I don't know what is! What cheek! Dare I say it, what arrogance? Hubris? To consider, Bilbo has learned so little about perspective, or humility even while living in the midst of Elves, is mind boggling. Was he merely joking? Doubtful. The council of Elrond is gathered really, essentially, to decide the fate of the world and it is not a subject that lends itself to casual jest.

Quote:
Aragorn was coming into his own and claiming his dues as King. What of the Ring? If Bilbo and Frodo were meant to have it, maybe Aragorn was meant to make the choices that split their paths off from that of the Fellowship. Maybe Aragorn would have failed like Frodo, in the end, did, and laid claim to the Ring. And Aragorn did not have Sam.
 

There is little question in my mind that Aragorn would have failed. And failed spectacularly. Sooner than Frodo did, too. Because, firstly as you say, he did not have Sam and secondly, his very strength (Aragorn has Hero emblazoned across his chest) would lead him into temptation. I wonder if Aragorn could be manipulated in the same way as Denethor? I mean, is there ever doubt that Denethor would have not only used the Ring, he must claim it, had it come to Minis Tirith?

Quote:
But still, I am not bothered by Sam receiving some guidance, either. It is not as if he is bent to a path he didn't want. At most, the path is straightened out a little, some of the rocks removed. Does belief come into it? Hmmm, probably. I don't believe strongly in God-given guidance, though. I think people are, mostly, on their own with their own minds to guide  them.


'Some of the rocks removed.' Another admirable description which succinctly describes exactly what those gentle little nudges accomplish. That abominable path through Mordor is smoothed just a little. It still remains immensely difficult though, and is always fraught with dangerous choices; there is always the possibility that Sam could take a wrong turn.

*********

A page or so back and what seems like an age ago ….

Faramond said:
Quote:
I guess what I don't see is what Sam's vigilance accomplished. It did not prevent Gollum's betrayal. It did not thwart Gollum's betrayal. If anything, it helped provoke Gollum's betrayal. I will not insist on that last interpretation, but it is often made. And I would also be careful to distinguish genuine vigilance from hostility.
 

Ahem. Here I go indulging in hypotheticals again. :D I think it's quite possible that without Sam's vigilance, either, or both, hobbits might have been murdered in their sleep. Or if not exactly murdered then harmed in the effort to lay his grimy hands on the Ring. The fact that the Ring would not want to be returned to Gollum is, for the sake of my hypothesis, irrelevant. <leave it be, Faramond. I promise I will revisit it later :D > It is Sam who first suggests that they(the hobbits) sleep in shifts:

“We've got to get some sleep; but not both together with that hungry villain nigh, promise or no promise.”

As it turns out Sam does fall asleep before Frodo can awake to take the next watch and both survive the night. Further, as Frodo reminds Sam “the promise will hold yet awhile.” And so it does, yet I still consider that before that tenuous attachment Gollum will come to feel for Frodo, there, but for the almost ceaseless watchfulness of Sam, might be opportunity for Gollum to do more malicious mischief. I can't prove that I'm right, not without combing the text or forcing it into my admittedly narrow interpretation. As to the contention you say is held by some ....... that vigilant Sam helped provoke Gollum into betrayed ....... I will refute that based on the events towards the end of their journey through the Dead Marshes.


Quote:
Sass wrote:
Distaste equals hostility? Well, Sam, on the whole, is hostile toward Gollum. He can, and does, try to hide it for Frodo's sake and for the sake of not provoking a slippery adversary into outright violence, but his hostility is there in his thoughts. I mean thinking to commit murder is about as hostile as one can get!

Faramond answered:
I think the expression of distaste is a form of hostility. Gollum is distasteful, but if you're thinking that whenever you see him, then you're better off if you're not seeing him anymore. And yet they needed him.
 

That they did and it's all well and good and it may be true although Sam did not think so at the time. But I don't think you can order emotions to behave in a laudatory manner just because it might be more expedient. The fact remains that Sam disliked Gollum, found him distasteful and was hostile towards him. From the first encounter in the Emyn Muil, with a few exceptions one of which you note, this was his overwhelming attitude to Gollum. I continue believing that the primary reason why Sam could not overcome his initial distaste (and this is important) is because he had not, as yet, suffered the burden of the Ring. Sméagol and Frodo had a created (inadvertent) bond . Frodo understood Gollum's mind and fequently his motives, in ways impossible for Sam. Frodo could empathize! You'll note that only after Sam carried the Ring and had experience of its terrible seductive power, then, and only then was he capable of pity and mercy! And why only afterwords? Because whether he wanted it or no, he had shared ....... and only by sharing could he move from sympathy into a genuine empathy.

**********

Voronwë said:
Quote:
Honestly, I'm not sure I have much to add at this point.


:(

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"Too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams."

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:49 pm 
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I continue believing that the primary reason why Sam could not overcome his initial distaste (and this is important) is because he had not, as yet, suffered the burden of the Ring.


I find myself agreeing. In his own way, despite all he'd been through, Sam remained essentially "innocent" until he carries the Ring, until he has to, even briefly, contemplate something beyond caring for Frodo. His turning away from that burden isn't a failure but a clear recognition of limits, and yet as you note, even that much is enough to connect him to Gollum...and Frodo...in a way impossible before.

This is perhaps the single best insight into human nature that JRRT makes in LOTR, and it distantly echoes what he observed about Manwë and Morgoth: real empathy with the fallen is impossible for the unfallen.

What makes Sam different is how he returns Home, whole, in a way Bilbo and Frodo cannot; yet he too sails into the West eventually, does he not? No easy, black and white answers here. :)


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axordil wrote:
Sass wrote:
I continue believing that the primary reason why Sam could not overcome his initial distaste (and this is important) is because he had not, as yet, suffered the burden of the Ring.


I find myself agreeing. In his own way, despite all he'd been through, Sam remained essentially "innocent" until he carries the Ring, until he has to, even briefly, contemplate something beyond caring for Frodo. <snip>

This is perhaps the single best insight into human nature that JRRT makes in LOTR, and it distantly echoes what he observed about Manwë and Morgoth: real empathy with the fallen is impossible for the unfallen.


I find myself agreeing too, both that Sam's understanding is so altered by carrying the Ring and that this is a recurring theme of Tolkien's. There is also delicious turnabout in the fact that what the Ring confers upon Bilbo and Frodo and Sam is empathy, and not the contempt that characterizes its maker.

There isn't time this morning for me this lunch hour to re-read posts, but this train of thought about empathy reminds me of things posted earlier in the thread by Ath and Sass on the Council of Elrond.

There are a couple levels of empathy conveyed throughout the story, I think ... empathy mobilized to trust in evolutions that cannot be foreseen (which is a kind of trusting in providence).

At the time of the Council, Elrond has a vague plan for destroying the Ring. His plan has Merry and Pippin going back to the Shire, and there is no particular place for Sam at all. From Elrond's perspective, Hobbits must be like flickering fireflies in the sweep of Middle Earth history. Their lives are short like men's lives and their stature is even shorter. Never before have they entered the history books, and now they are standing center stage and grabbing central roles.

First, that Elrond is the sort of man who can see Frodo must be the Ringbearer, that in itself is significant commentary on his character. But more importantly, he allows for the possibility of comparable importance in Sam and Merry and Pippin long before they have proven themselves.

What Merry and Pippin in particular have to offer to the quest must be obscure to his mind ... Gandalf's description of their loyalty he accepts, but still ... to choose them for the fellowship instead of elf warriors, that's quite a gamble.

What strikes me as significant about this is that Elrond is able to make space for possibilities that are not only uncertain but beyond his own imagination. He is able to accept that the big picture is bigger than his own head. This is exactly what Sauron is not able to do. His downfall is exactly because of this - that he is unable to imagine a character unlike his own, or build into his plan the imagination of characters other than himself.

Walking in the other person's shoes confers the greatest empathy, but even without that opportunity an open person has opportunity to imagine the other person's shoes and choose accordingly.

Where Gollum is concerned, I think this imagination is what Sam lacks until he actually carries the Ring. He does not imagine Gollum's torment until then, but once he does carry the Ring, he responds as Bilbo and Frodo did, by finding empathy, and not as Boromir did and as Denethor would have.

Ath, you mentioned earlier that Éowyn's laugh is like Sam's song. Oh yes! Every fiber of my being agrees with that. That sentence, "of all sounds in that hour the strangest," was from the first and remains to this day my very favorite sentence in the book. After 40+ readings I still get goosebumps reading it.

There is another place where I still get the same goosebump, and that is where Tom Bombadil puts on the Ring and the Ring disappears. Perhaps I mentioned this before on this board, but that moment in the book, on my first reading of it, was the moment when I knew that Tolkien was writing truth and not garbage. I was fifteen years old, very young, but like you, Ath, I had already seen without blinking in my young life enough to understand the significance of that scene.

Sass, you asked whether we remembered how LotR grabbed us and drew us in on our first reading. What a great question, because ... I had forgotten! I really had forgotten, but then you mentioned the one scene that brought it back to me with such clarity, it was as if you gave me back a day of my own youth: Gandalf falling in Moria.

LotR was given to me by my then-boyfriend, John, a copy passed around to so many people it was literally falling apart. The covers were gone, the glue was peeling from the spine, the pages were so dog-eared they looked as if they had fallen into a tub of water ...

In those days, my 'crowd' was the drama geek crowd at school. Auditions were open so students from a bunch of schools in the area worked together on each play. That's where I met my boyfriend - we went to school on opposite sides of town but were drama geeks together. Rehearsals were downtown, and we would walk together after rehearsal to this one cafeteria on the mezzanine of a department store - Rike's Mezzanine - and have a coke before catching our buses home. (The store is long gone, of course.) The faces of those particular friends, our tromping through the city to the department store, squeezing with our book bags (backpacks not invented yet) between the perfume and jewelry and stationery counters on the first floor, touching the gaudy hat pins stuck into a wig stand that looked like a giant Tiffany egg, sniffing the cases of scented sealing wax and feather-edged paper, passing the elevator with its uniformed men operating the doors and climbing the stairs to the mezzanine, stairs covered in linoleum with open risers, and the ambiance of the cafeteria itself when our innocent wolf pack of two dozen teenagers would arrive, each of us ordering "a coke, please" and nothing else, and driving all the regular customers back to their shopping to escape the noise ... Sass, when you said "Gandalf falling," that all came back to me like a page out of Proust.

The night that I read the chapter about Moria, the next day I went after John like a valkyrie while we drank cokes in Rike's Mezzanine, demanding to know if Gandalf were really dead! Finally he gave up and asked if I really wanted to know ... and, of course, then I knew.

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Jnyusa always has something to say that makes me nod in agreement: "His downfall is exactly because of this - that he is unable to imagine a character unlike his own, or build into his plan the imagination of characters other than himself. "

It always is. This is always why "great men" and "empires" fail and it is as true now as it was then. It isn't the "unforeseen" that destroys, it is the "unimagined".

I loved Jnyusa's story of how she first read LOTR. I wish I had experienced it that way. But . . . then again . . . to be honest, I'm just as glad I didn't. I knew nothing about Tolkien or The First Age, all I knew was what I read and loved. I didn't even read the appendix until about the 10th reading. I can remember when Gandalf first fell, and the shock, and then the curiosity about "who would lead now" and then, eventually, the annoyance and puzzlement about Gandalf's resurrection and what the heck it was supposed to mean. Still irritates me - the hand of the god offstage is a little too heavy there.

In or about 1975 or so I met a dope-smoking hippy who lived in squalor with his girlfriend Galadriel ( ! ) and he was the first other person I ever met who had read LOTR. He cooly and smugly told me that "you know, Aragron is the real hero" and I remember wanting to smite him. :salmon: No fish to slap him with unfortunately, and my kids got bitten by fleas in their hovel so that was the end of that. :)

Two classes of creatures have always struck me as unimportant to the story: Elves and Orcs. Elves because they are "not fallen" and Orcs, because they are unredeemable: both are "inhuman". Elves are only interesting when they act like people. Likewise with Orcs: Snaga and the other, chatting about what they'll do "after the war". Other than those 2, they are just machines and I don't like machines in such a tale even when there's a god in them.

For awhile I would think, yes, Don the Doper was right, Aragorn is "the real hero" and then my heart would go for Frodo again, but more and more I see Sam as MY hero.

Earlier in this thread, and elsewhere, I have said I wonder what on earth Elves do with their time. I will always wonder what they do with their time - except when they act like humans. Proud, vainglorious, quick to anger, imperious, brilliant and beautiful, but human.

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Those are the Elves of The Silmarillion (and even more, of the Lost Tales, but that, perhaps, should be the subject of another thread).

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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Those are the Elves of The Silmarillion (and even more, of the Lost Tales, but that, perhaps, should be the subject of another thread).



If it pleases you, Sir, and If I may pull rank as thread-starter, I prefer not. :)

There have been several brief osgilliations thus far and each time we organically weave our way back into discussing Sam again.

And.
I don't mind at all if the thread evolves to include a broader perspective of all things Lord of the Rings. Plus, I think it is relatively difficult to confine oneself to a focus on Third Age Elves without mentioning their history.

But that's just me. :D

******

We are in agreement then, Jn. :love: The entire theme of sympathy/empathy in LotR is deserving of more scrutiny. Hoom, (as Ath would say) now you've got me thinking.

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