On 2012-08-16 16:14, Raven wrote:
> "Steuard Jensen" <ste...@slimy.com
> skrev i meddelelsen
>> I don't have time right now to really do this reply justice, but
>> it boggles my mind that he'd have to ask. The Great Debates have
>> stagnated because casual fans don't have the patience for them
>> and serious scholars are told quite emphatically that they aren't
>> worth discussing.
With the whole of HoMe as well as tons of other stuff to get through,
it is no surprise that the more casual fans tend to give up more
quickly -- when they meet quotations from all these books at every
turn, it must seem to many a hopeless task to be able to catch up. And
of course it doesn't even stop there -- we also quote from Shippey,
Flieger, Hammond & Scull and others, and in a year we'll be quoting
also from Tolkien _The Fall of Arthur_ . . .
As for serious scholars, I think that you are exaggerating the
situation -- and in some ways downplaying it ;-)
Serious scholars are probably told that they shouldn't do Tolkien
research at all (it is still not a really good career move), but when
they do so anyway, I don't think there's anyone telling them to stay
out of story-internal discussions -- once they put their effort into
Tolkien studies, it doesn't really matter much what kind of studies
they undertake ;-)
>> I agree that the splintering of the online community has had
>> something to do with it, too, as the Great Debates were the bread
>> and butter of these groups for many years. Those debates require a
>> *lot* of concentrated expertise for productive discussion these
>> days: there were probably a dozen people here at the height of
>> those discussions who today would simply *end* the conversation on
>> most Tolkien forums by posting a quick summary of what's known on
>> the topic (whether they were trying to shut everyone else up or
Yes, good Tolkien lorists are now spread rather more thinly, which
makes it much more difficult to sustain a debate at a high level.
>> But the real issue, I think, is that the "mature" side of Tolkien
>> Studies has made a significant effort to separate itself from
>> story-internal discussions.
I cannot say that this is my impression -- instead I have experienced
academic Tolkienists involving themselves precisely in the story-
internal discussions. Not, of course, every discussion -- I think most
of them would prefer not to be involved in discussing the colour of
Legolas' hair (though in general they tend to treat that discussion
with mere silence rather than the disdain it, IMO, so richly deserves),
but if you read Verlyn Flieger's recent collection of essays, you'll
find that a number of them have an almost purely story-internal
perspective, just as you can find articles in _Tolkien Studies_ that
have clear story-internal lines of argumentation. It is true that the
story-internal discussion is rarely undiluted by story-external
arguments, but I would argue that this is necessary in most (actually
in very nearly all) cases if there is a discussion at all.
>> That has value in the academic world, of course: it helps to
>> emphasize that you're doing real scholarship rather than just
>> engaging in fannish games.
There is, I would say, a class of 'fannish games' that are so immature
that they are really uninteresting for most people above 20 regardless
of academic achievements -- discussing whether Gandalf or Dumbledore is
the 'greatest wizard' is perhaps the clearest example. Other types of
questions can be uninteresting for other reasons, but it is not my
impression that any academic doing Tolkien studies professionally would
discard a discussion simply because it is story-internal.
>> But it does mean that anyone who wants to be taken seriously
>> as a Tolkien scholar is strongly discouraged from story-internal
> Wait, what? Am I misunderstanding something again, or is this
> the equivalent of being taken seriously as a theoretical physicist
> by studying scientists like Bohr and Einstein, including quantum
> mechanics and relativity mainly inasmuch as these may illuminate
> the main interest?
I am not sure that the comparison holds -- the work of Bohr and
Einstein have a historical interest for many physicists, but their
ideas and theories have today been superceded, so that studying it is
mainly interesting from a historical perspective and out of respect for
their huge contribution (in the context of the time in which they
The purpose of (many? most?) academic studies is to understand the mind
of the artist -- the mental landscape in which his or her art grew.
This is fundamentally different from science in which the focus is on
the product of the mind, the theory, in its current shape (the other
perspective is history of science, which, though often carried out by
trained scientists, is not in itself really a topic of academic
scholarship in the natural sciences).
But the point I would like to make is that, in _my_ experience,
academics doing Tolkien studies _do_ engage in story-internal
discussions, if nothing else, then because this is one aspect of
uncovering his 'mental landscape' (you can tell that I do like that
metaphor, can't you :-D). Of course this means that they engage in the
story-internal discussions that they feel are relevant to their
interests -- so do I, for that matter.
>> Troels, weren't you the one who commented somewhere (not too long
>> ago) that you couldn't think of any journal today that might be
>> interested in publishing my Bombadil essay? Not that it's perfect
>> (I have a grand revision I'd love to make if I had time), but I'd
>> still claim that it was a pretty substantial piece of story-
>> internal scholarship (and it even gets occasional academic
I may have, though I am not now sure that it would be correct -- at
least I don't think the topic and manner of discussion would prevent
publication in journals such as _Mythlore_, _Mallorn_, _Beyond Bree_
etc. and I think that, with a little added stuff to connect it to the
understanding of Tolkien's mind and artistic process, the argument
might have a place also in _Tolkien Studies_.
That is, the specific essay may not have much chance -- it has been
published on-line for quite a time and is, as you also indicate, quite
well-known, and thus will probably not be published (how many physics
journals would publish work that has been available on-line for several
years and is quite well known in the community?) This, however, has
nothing to do with the story-internal nature of the essay, but is a
result of all journals generally wanting to publish new arguments --
even a story-internal Bombadil paper could, I believe, be published if
it contributed something new to the discussion.
>> I completely agree with you that understanding Middle-earth
>> *can* make a real contribution to understanding Tolkien in
>> more academic ways, but name me the journal that would agree.
In _Tolkien Studies VII_, Vladimir Brljak had an article titled 'The
Book of Lost Tales: Tolkien as a Metafictionist' in which the main part
of the discussion centred on the story-internal tranmission history of
the Red Book from the Thain's Book to Tolkien the translator. Yes,
there was _also_ a number of story-external considerations and
arguments, but that is besides the point. In _Tolkien Studies VI_
Verlyn Flieger wrote on how free will operates _within_ Tolkien's
world, and in vol. VII Thomas Fornet-Ponse answered her (in my opinion
he misreads the _Ainulindal隷, but that's a different matter).
_Mallorn_ has recently (with two issues per year, 'recently' means
within the last 2 - 3 years) published several story-internal
discussions -- including discussions of Orcs and Balrogs (though it
carefully avoided the issue of Balrog wings).
Dmitra Fimi has an account on the Tolkien Gateway, which is very
particular about taking the story-internal view on all story-internal
things -- how cool is that? ;-)
The other side of this is, of course, that the story-external arguments
are just as necessary for the understanding of Tolkien's Secondary
World -- if we wish to discover what Middle-earth was like, then we
cannot disregard the question of trying to understand how Tolkien
thought about his world, and that is, in my understanding, precisely
aim of the story-external view (even trying to understand what it was
like to be a Catholic undergraduate in Oxford before the Great War can
be a part of our quest to find out about Tolkien's Secondary World).
What we need to keep in mind is that Arda _is_ a sub-created world --
there is an artist and a sub-creating mind that is important to the
sub-creation. Thinking that we can discuss e.g. the nature of the
agency of the Master Ring without trying also to understand Tolkien's
ideas and beliefs and mode of working is, in my honest opinion, silly.
>> (I saw papers in "Chaucer Studies" that were substantially story-
>> internal in focus, back when I was in a related college course,
>> but I don't think that there's currently a place for that in
>> Tolkien scholarship.)
My impression, as you can clearly see from the above, is quite
different. I cannot say why our experiences differ as they do -- could
it possibly be a matter of timing? (I'm thinking that Tolkien academics
may, some years ago, have found it necessary to distance themselves a
bit to some of the 'great fan-debates' which were, to be blunt about
it, fairly silly and immature [the colour of Legolas' hair? the shape
of Hobbit or Elven ears?].)
>> I agree that it would be nice to see that change.
One of the stated purposes of The Return of the Ring conference held by
the Tolkien Society earlier this month was to get fandom, entertainment
and academia to meet and to 'break down perceived barriers'. Being at
the conference, I can honestly say that I never experienced any such
barriers, and engaged in lively both story-internal and story-external
discussions with lots of people from all backgrounds.
I don't think that it is conductive for any discussion to stay
exclusively story-internal or story-external -- even an academic
source-study needs to sort its story-internal arguments also, or else
it will fail to convince the readers. The weight tends to shift a bit
-- there is, admittedly, less focus on story-internal arguments in
_Tolkien Studies_ than in _Mallorn_ and still more here in our
newsgroups (and here we are not even at the end of that scale), but
that doesn't mean that we disregard story-external arguments, nor that
academic discussions doesn't engage in story-internal arguments (and
discussions). We need the whole range -- we even need those silly and
immature discussions to get new youngsters engaged in Tolkien
discussions (I'm happy to have them as long as I don't have to be
engaged in them).
Valid e-mail is <troelsfo(a)gmail.com
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- Aragorn "Strider", /Two Towers/ (J.R.R. Tolkien)