The Darkness - how deep?

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Postby ArPharazon » Tue Mar 19, 2002 10:44 am

The thought that has inspired me to begin this new thread came originally from another, but I think the topic demands its own separate discussion.<BR><BR>Reading through many threads on these boards, one begins to appreciate the many ways in which there are to read and understand LOTR. Some peoples' peceptions are very different from others. For some people it seems to be a tale furry-footed little men who have adventures - an extension of the hobbit really. Some of the more frigthening moments thus come as a shock. To others the story is practically a horror story, so black as to be unrelieved. Yet one reads that some members feel that the ending is too sad and harsh? that they find the times when Frodo faces torture and torment in Cirith Ungol (for instance) almost overwhelming.<BR><BR><BR>Many have said that PJ's film of FOTR brings out a darkness which they seem to feel inappropriate or even alien to the book.<BR><BR>The thought that made me post this thread, therefore, was this. "Do you see LOTR as a "dark book" and if so, how deep is that darkness."<BR><BR>For me, from the first, LOTR was a tremendous epic set against a lowering backcloth that was filled with genuine terror. JRRT's style is not to emphasise that, or delineate it in too detailed a way. Nevertheless, any probing beneath the surface, a moment's thought, reveals the darkness to be there just below the surface, and sometimes bubbling up into the foreground.<BR><BR>True, the hobbits mediate between the terror and the reader to some extent, as they prick the bubble of epic pomposity on occasion - as with Merry and Pippin's comments on Theoden after meeting him at Isengard.<BR><BR>But the Black Riders are terrible, nightmare creatures. Sauron's evil creeps over the Barrow Downs already and the dead walk. His name cannot be mentioned not the Black Tongue spoken for fear. Bree is a place of fear. Weathertop almost fatal. Tragedy and tales of the tragic past envelop everyone...<BR><BR>I could go on and come to the battles, the lopped heads, Shelob; the Mouth of Sauron... Even the fading of elvish culture, their departure, and the eventual, inevitable death of Arwen are hardly moments of light relief.<BR><BR>So what do you think. How do you see the books "proportions" between darkness and fantasy? have I over egged the pudding,? Did PJ? Or are some too sentimental in their reading of this great book?<BR><BR>And maybe in addition - any thoughts on how JRRT got his effects? What was the balance he had in mind?<BR><BR>I'd love to hear your views.
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Postby Magpie » Tue Mar 19, 2002 11:43 am

What a good topic, ArPharazon! The thing about LOTR with me is that it draws me back again and again, yet I know the story (especially the ending) is going to break my heart every time. I wouldn't want it any other way--that way wouldn't be real. That's what I think the book is, really--it's not so much dark as just real, dealing with the thing that, for some reason, obsesses me about life, which is loss. I don't know if I'll be able to really put it into words, but this is how the "darkness" in LOTR always strikes me.<BR><BR>The joyful parts of the book, for me, aren't the grand victories, but the cozy contentment and love of life the hobbits feel when they're together. For instance, I *love* the scene at Crickhollow when the hobbits take a bath and sing and have dinner. That's what joy is. Yet these are the guys who are going to go through so much pain...and that seems real to me too. Because even that most joyful moment is going to fade away, but the memory of it gives the hobbits strength in battle. That's what's taken away from Frodo. He remembers that such things happened, but it's all changed for him; it's dead. Perhaps he would even look back on that scene and think, "we were dying, even then." I guess I can kind of identify with his feelings returning to the Shire to find it different because he's different. Whenever I return to some place of my past I usually end up feeling incredibly disturbed, like I don't belong there anymore and that's frightening to me. It's painful to think about and I want to run away as soon as possible. I guess that's why I admire Frodo so much for willingly taking on this quest even though it's going take away everything he has (even if he doesn't quite know that at first I think he struggles with the knowledge of it later on). <BR><BR>But this, I think, is life. To move forward, you must open your eyes to all that's in the world, and that includes horror. The loss of innocence is worth it, but it's still a loss. (Cue music from The Fantasticks: "Without a hurt the heart is hollow...")<img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>I don't really see darkness in LOTR as much as I see sadness. Yes the orcs are frightening and Sauron is evil, but the book is also filled with good friends who love each other and can be cheerful in the darkest situations. Because the darkest characters don't have that kind of joy, they always seem somewhat pitiful. They may have power, but they're almost always prisoners of that power. Sometimes I used to think it would just be easier to be an orc because hey, if you're the bad guy, there's no bad guys to scare you! Then I realized that being an orc is probably ten times more frightening than being chased by one. No joy, no friends, no hope, ugly clothes. <BR><BR>I think it's very significant that JRRT chooses to poison almost all of his blades. The characters can all recover from regular wounds, but not the ones where they're infected with the very darkness that wounded them. That's what's truly frightening, imo, that the monsters have left part of themselves on or in their victim. It's part of them now, because they've felt it inside.<BR><BR>That's not to say I don't think the villains are frightening even when their blades don't hit the mark. The book would again seem like it was lying if the villains weren't able to inflict real pain on the heroes--and they do inflict real pain. Some of the darkest, saddest moments are ones where the heroes aren't facing down a monster, but when they're feeling utterly alone, like Merry stumbling throught he streets of Minas Tirith, forgotten. Or Pippin waiting to meet death on the battlefield. Or Sam alone in the tower, out of ideas, thinking he'll never find Frodo. Yet in all those cases the darkness isn't dispersed by victory over evil. The world doesn't change and become sunnier. All that happens is the hobbits find their friend again! <BR><BR>This drive to preserve a perfect moment (like the evening at Crickhollow) and keep it from being corrupted by the evil in the world has interested me for a while. In grad school I was studying film theory that dealt with "embalming a moment" and "saving it from its proper corruption" at the same time as I was taking a course in modernists like Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Vera Brittain and the two ideas just all came together for me. Maybe what makes LOTR dark is the mortality that hangs over everything. One never feels, for instance, that the characters are immune to death despite being the heroes. Even the immortals aren't truly so--they don't die themselves, but they live in a perpetual state of mourning.<BR><BR>So as to the question of balance I think the overarching feeling could be considered dark if one considers death dark. Within that, though, I think the story is full of hope--but a hope born of realism, not ignorance. Hope is Sam Gamgee making the Shire grow again and raising happy children...but never forgetting how his friend that lost that chance. I find it sad that Frodo has to go away, but I'd find it unbearable if I thought Sam forgot him. Luckily, we know Sam never would.<img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>-m<BR><BR>Edit: I just realized there's something I might not have made clear there.<img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> The mortality problem isn't with death itself. Death, in a way, is what preserves the moment. The corruption comes from life and living on. Iow, the dead don't age. The dead don't change.
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Postby Mithramien » Tue Mar 19, 2002 12:01 pm

ArPhar-<BR><BR>Brilliant topic. Strikes right to the core of why I continue to obsess over this man and his books.<BR><BR>I would answer your question: Straight to the core.<BR><BR>There is a darkness and a sadness that pervades the entire world that Tolkien creates. For me, it is the darkness of modernity. Everything is tired, fading, burdened by history and impending crisis. It is the entire weight of the third age collapsing on itself.<BR><BR>I like to think of LOTR as a medieval romance epic that has been totally stained over, or washed-out somehow, by the psychological trials and torments of the 20th century. It is Tolkien's fatigue with the modern world and technology; it is also the burden of the catastrophes of the 20th century, from the Great War to WWII. His work reminds me so much of much of the writing and music that came out of a war-weary and suddenly-Modern England. I think of Britten's War Requiem and the poetry of Wilfred Owen a lot when I'm reading LOTR.<BR><BR>And that's what I love about it. It is so much richer for this feeling, so much older. This is what history is really like - heavy with all the millions of stories, burdened by all the tragedy and the missed opportunity. The future, on the other hand, tends to be bright - we think of possibility and progress. But history is an old, musty, leather-bound and decaying thing. And LOTR is true historical fantasy.<BR><BR>A lot of people associate the darkness with pure evil, with Sauron. I don't. I see Sauron as the embodiment of this sense of decay and fatigue in the Third Age - he is the symptom of a deeper cancer. The old ways are dying, exploited, tarnished. The elves have to leave. Someone else must have a vision to reimagine Middle Earth without the burden that has accumulated from all its previous intrigues.<BR><BR>That's why Aragorn is so important. He is the new age of Mankind, the new imagining of Middle Earth. He sweeps away the darkness with his coronation, and introduces a new age, a future age, which can sparkle with light, breezy optimism as it lies on the cusp of possibility. The only way that Middle Earth rises above its own chronic darkness is to move past it - a new king, a new age; the old ways and the old heroes passing away over the ocean in a grey ship.
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Postby ArPharazon » Tue Mar 19, 2002 3:33 pm

Two VERY elegaic responses so far. Thanks. I look forward to more.
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Postby Novice » Tue Mar 19, 2002 5:02 pm

I think one must go back to the beginning; not the beginning of the story, but the beginning of the book. Tolkien's purpose (apart from creating a history for his languages) was to create <b>a mythology for England.</b><BR><BR>His emotional and literary sources were the great northern myths--the Kalevala, Beowulf, etc. He also had a knowledge of the classical Greek/roman myths, altho he didn't respond to them emotionally.<BR><BR>And myth, especially 'true' myth, which is what captured his imagination and harnessed his creativity, is all about the darker human impulses, about inner struggles incarnate--the dragons, the balrogs, the saurons, these are incarnations of the inner darknesses with which humanity must struggle.<BR><BR>LOTR is a 'fairy story' to some; but even there, Tolkien redefined 'Faerie' into a deeper place where the more difficult impulses are laid bare and find expression.<BR><BR>Even the environmental concerns which are so obvious throughout the story have their source in the darker impulses of human nature--it is our desire for power, 'progress', our greed, which results in the destruction of nature's beauty.<BR><BR>LOTR is only as dark and as deep as the reader finds it, depending, IMO on how each reader confronts and wrestles with the inner, darker and raw impulses we all possess.<BR>
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Postby Hero's Song » Tue Mar 19, 2002 8:05 pm

LOTR is a perfect balance of dark and light. There is always hope, even in the darkest places. Tolkien puts in the lighter moments in just the right places.<BR>I love the stories in the Sil, but they are so dark and depressing, especially Turin's story. Couldn't that guy get one break?!!! I guess that's why those stories don't have the same appeal to me as LOTR. There's very little reason to smile. <BR>I think the movie is just about right in its balance. It will be interesting to see how the other two movies come out since we know things just get more serious. For instance, I hope we get the scenes with Sam cooking the coneys and talking to Gollum about tators and the other lighter moments to balance everything out.
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Postby ArPharazon » Wed Mar 20, 2002 12:08 am

But Hero's Song, do the charming moments with the hobbits such as you mention "balance" the darkness - or just make it (more) bearable for the reader. I would suggest that they are like the "comic" characters in Shakespeare (the porter in Macbeth for example) who's creation of laughter just makes the horror to come all the worse by bringing it into sharper focus.<BR><BR>To my mind, "balance" might have been achieved by having a sub-plot in The Shire where we see all is OK and right away from the pressure and evil that is mounting elsewhere, but the coney scene you mention remains in the midst of the darkness. oes this lighten the book overall. I don't think so.<BR><BR>True Tolkien brings out many admirable qualities and shows the magnificence of the "human" (I include elves) spirit under adversity etc. But as many readers on these boards have pointed out they are SHOCKED by the ending, that Frodo's visible end is dark and unrewarded (though it is hinted he will find peace elsewhere). ME is not saved but changed. This surely is dark in the extreme - realistic some might say - even cynical.<BR><BR>Compare the Narnia books where the darkness seems to pass and light returns with rewards for all the heroes. <BR><BR>Back you you.
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Postby Ash_Nazg_13 » Wed Mar 20, 2002 1:20 am

Wow, i loved reading what you all had to say! you truly hit at the spot that makes LOTR such a great book (for me and for many other fans). i think you were ALL right....and there isnt really anything i can add at this point<img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-tongue.gif"border=0>
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Postby Magpie » Wed Mar 20, 2002 7:47 am

A while ago here there was a thread asking what the saddest part of LOTR was for everyone. A lot of people named the Havens, but for me it's the appendixes! I_hate_ hearing about the hobbits' lives after the War of the Ring--not because I think they don't live exactly the lives I'd expect or because I begrudge them a happy life. But when I hear about the years of the Thain, Mayor and Master of Brandy Hall I always think, "this is the years where they forgot themselves and forgot Frodo." Not literally, of course, but still in a very real way. It's just the time in their life when they're concentrated on living, doing, making, raising children, having responsibility. <BR><BR>What makes it okay, for me, is that in the end, after they get older and put aside these things and pass them on to others they naturally recover themselves. Looking back at their life (in my imagination, based on their actions in the appendixes) I think they think about who they really were and who was important and certain faces naturally rise before them and come alive again. Merry and Pippin naturally end up together and Sam goes to be with Frodo.<BR><BR>This is not to say that they don't love the people they've lived their lives with, particularly Sam and Rosie. But while Sam loves Rosie in one way, I think what's special about Frodo is that Frodo knew Sam when he was most himself. Rosie, remember, refers to the year of the story as a "wasted" one when Sam returns. I understand what she meant, of course, but still I think in following Frodo Sam recovers a part of his true self he had to leave behind to fulfill the roles he had to play in life. He's just Sam again, and Sam's happiest moments are with Frodo, just as Merry's and Pippin's are with each other. I suspect that during most of those years when they thought of Frodo they thought about the Ring--he's like a historic personage. But toward the end of their lives I'll bet more and more they remembered times like the night in Crickhollow as Frodo became alive again for them.<BR><BR>This is just a phenomenon I've noticed a lot in life in general so I thought I'd throw it out. Orcs and dragons don't scare me half as much as the idea that any of the hobbits would grow and change to the point where they truly lost that essential part of themselves and their love for each other. It's like in this huge dark world where everything decays and changes they can still find their way back to each other and feel each others' protection. In that way--and no other, seemingly--they can always go home again.<BR><BR>-m<BR>
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Postby Novice » Wed Mar 20, 2002 5:39 pm

<i>Compare the Narnia books where the darkness seems to pass and light returns with rewards for all the heroes. </i><BR><BR>ArPharazon, the Narnia books are Bible stories (Lewis himself said they were not religious allegory but 'the Christ story' itself!) LOTR, on the other hand, is not allegory, but myth!! Mythology deals with the dark side; that's what it does. I can't think of a single 'happy' or 'light' myth worth it's salt<BR> (edited for grammar)<BR>
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Postby Hero's Song » Sun Mar 24, 2002 11:52 am

I guess balance wasn't the right word. The contrast, is of course, what makes the stories great and more realistic.
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Postby wilko185 » Sat Apr 27, 2002 6:57 pm

I didn't respond to this thread at the time as I felt I couldn't add much to the excellent posts already here. After giving it some more thought, I still can't, so this is not much more than a well-deserved bump for a very good thread. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> But FWIW, here's what I think of the "darkness" of LOTR, which gets deeper ever time I reread it.<BR><BR>In Letter #17, speaking of The Hobbit Tolkien said "the presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what gives this imagined world its verisimilitude. A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds." This is surely far more true of LOTR than TH. We call LOTR "fantasy" because it's obviously fantastical to us, but if Sam were to honestly recount the story of his journey to Rosie on his return (which I doubt he ever would) it would be a tale of dark horror broken by occasional periods in the light. What the hobbits go through in RoTK before the Ring is destroyed could not sound like anything other than what it was: the harrowing experiences of the survivors of a terrible war. <BR><BR>But to us, the readers, LOTR isn't a horror story. It isn't really viscerally frightening because it isn't of our world. Horror stories usually try to convince us that the supernatural or unnatural can protrude into the "real" world. LOTR does almost the opposite and gives us another world where such things are a given, and makes them utterly convincing. The sudden appearance of a Nazgul on a country lane breaks less rules about what we know to be true of Middle Earth than it would of our world, so the Nazgul is more believable in Middle Earth than outside it. (If the trick of a believable Nazgul in our world could be pulled off, however, that could be far more frightening. But that level of suspension of disbelief is far harder to maintain in a "real world" setting). The ever-present possibilty of such things makes Middle Earth potentially "darker" than our world, IMO. There is also conversely the opportunity for far greater brightness and joy, however.<BR><BR>The effects and manifestations of evil are just a reflection of the dark core of the tale though. LOTR is a fairy-tale, and like many fairy-tales it is not (just) for children, but is a folk tale that can tell us something about ourselves or our society through symbolism (often some taboo subject, such as the "coded" sexual themes in Little Red Riding Hood). Tolkien once wrote that the book is not really about good and evil, or "about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness."<BR><BR>The price paid for the striving-for and resisting this desire is the real darkness of the story for me. I have to second Magpie, the appendices contain some of the most painful parts of the story, recounting what happens afterwards. "The loss and the silence."
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Postby Alys » Sat Apr 27, 2002 7:23 pm

What a fantastic group of answers! I don't know how I missed this thread the first time round (probably frolicking in movies <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>) I do not really have anything to add everyone has said it for me already especially Mithramien (wow) but I would like to say that I found the movie surprisingly light. I was expecting more of a feeling of creeping doom, less shock and more tension so to speak. <BR><BR>I do agree that the book is as dark as you want/need it to be, sometimes when I read it I see the joy and at other times it is the horrible fading of magic or the darkness of the Nazgul. Your average teenage reader wants heros and happy endings and thats what they see and expect throughout the book, hence their shock at the tragic ending and the 'darkness' of the film. They still have the real darkness of the book to discover and, in a way, I envy them. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby TheWagner » Sat Apr 27, 2002 8:31 pm

This is an interesting thread - I am surprised that I missed it when it was first out. <BR><BR>Like ArPhar, I, too, was surprised when people complained about the film being to dark because I consider the story to be very dark. I do not view the "happy" moments early in Fellowship to be balance, but to offer contrast. That is, the "Renaissance Faire" life of Hobbiton and Bree are not important in themselves except to emphasize how bad things could be. (It also represents a historical artifact of being the things Tolkien wrote while searching for a sequel to the Hobbit.)<BR><BR>A germane historical anecdote comes to mind. Many people in the Eisenhower administration viewed the Cold War quite hopelessly - the Soviet Union had expanded its satellites greatly, was funding several insurrections and seemed to have spies / sympathizers planted throughout Western government and industry. In short, many of them thought that the west ultimately would fall. LotR supposedly was a popular read because the dark despairing mood of the book matched their mood concerning the Cold War, yet the good guys (which, of course, they perceived themselves to be!) managed to win in the end. <BR><BR>Tolkien's proposed titles for the first two volumes (The Shadow Returns and The Shadow Lengthens) suggests to me that he wished the dark aspects to be emphasized. <BR>
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Postby BethgiltheRed » Sat Apr 27, 2002 8:36 pm

I don't see the tale as dark, but kind of grey, with dark dips and light peaks. Just my two cents.
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Postby Novice » Sun Apr 28, 2002 8:28 pm

Wilko: <i>But to us, the readers, LOTR isn't a horror story. It isn't really viscerally frightening because it isn't of our world.</i><BR><BR>I see what you mean, and agree that it is the reader's ability to keep it at a distance, knowing that it is not 'our world' that enables many to somehow not see the darkness at all, to skip over it as describing things that are 'not real'.<BR><BR>But the story succeeds so remarkably because Tolkien has managed to make these things --the darkness and the light, the emotional heights and depths-- so very real, particularly as one gets older and/or one's range of emotional experience becomes wider. I also think that the capacity to see and feel deeply, broadly, the highs and the lows has much to do with one's intimate emotional, mental and psychological ground; ie where you stand. <BR><BR>Morover, once you enter that world, everything in the story obeys the rules, or laws of that world; it has internal consistency, so if you 'buy' the founding premise, everything after becomes very real indeed! As Tolkien would have put it (had he not been too modest), it is a triumph of subcreation. It has, I think, gone well beyond 'historic romance', which is how Tolkien modestly described it, and 'fantasy' or any of the other modern categories, and into the realm of real 'myth'. <BR>
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Postby ArPharazon » Sun Apr 28, 2002 11:07 pm

Gosh - this is a rave from the grave!!! Thank you to whomever - was it you Wilko - for resurrecting it!!<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0> The contributions are certainly worth re-reading, not least against the background of more recent threads and postings.<BR><BR>In retrospect, I think there is something to do with approach to the book here and as (Alys<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>??) suggested, maybe age too.<BR><BR>Those who come looking for an adventure/quest find that - and it is easy to avoid thinking about the "dark bits" because they are at the edges. But the more you think about the book, the implications of what happened, and put the events into their context, the utter depth and blackness (nay horror) of the darkness seems to well up.<BR><BR>The young - I think (but we see plenty of exceptions on these boards) - may sometimes read superficially. This gives rise to some of the posts which express shock/surprise about the ending or the fate of characters. I am interested that many people (see LOTR movie forum also)find Sean Bean's characterisation of Boromir based I assume on the script and PJ's intentions - so attractive. They write that they never liked the character in the book, and seem to think that this is their mis-reading. But it is NOT - the book's Boromir is a VERY different entity to Sean Bean's (in my opinion) and the book is full of such unsentimental, harshness - realism I guess, within the boundaries of a fictional land.<BR><BR>One of the reasons I admire PJ so much is that his reflection of this (rather than some pretty version of faerie) demonstrates how deeply he had delved into LOTR and thought about it.<BR><BR>I love the phrase "The loss and the silence." - make a good title for a book. Is that original Wilko, or a quote?<BR><BR>Nothing much new hear, just a summary of some of the excellent posts previously. Thanks for all of them. Any contributions from newer members or those who did not post before would be welcome.
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Postby wilko185 » Sun Apr 28, 2002 11:24 pm

Novice - <i>I see what you mean, and agree that it is the reader's ability to keep it at a distance, knowing that it is not 'our world' that enables many to somehow not see the darkness at all, to skip over it as describing things that are 'not real'.</i><BR><BR>I didn't say this very well, but I think "skipping over" the dark is missing a big part of the point. I only think LOTR is not a horror story because it's a "fantasy-horror" story (using my own private defintion of "horror-story" <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0>: the unwelcome intrusion of the fantastic into the mundane world).<BR><BR>ArP, that phrase is Arwen in the appendix:<BR><BR>"Nay, dear lord," she said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence..."<BR><BR>A beautiful and haunting description of death, I think.
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Postby ArPharazon » Sun Apr 28, 2002 11:28 pm

Or just of the way the fellowship felt once the adventure was over, the Ring destroyed, and many of their members departing. I find the phrase haunting and had not noted it before. I am grateful to you for drawing my attention to it - I don't think I will ever forget it now.<BR><BR>By the way, you are on the boards early today. I'm just doing 10 minutes before going to work.<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-sad.gif"border=0>
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Postby earendil81 » Mon Apr 29, 2002 6:44 am

As usual ArPharazon you ask brilliant and interesting questions... And you have very rich and interesting answers. I feel sometimes completely unaware of Tolkien's work.<BR><BR>I think that the movie was really lightly compared with the book. And like you I noticed that many people didn't like Boromir in the book but did in the movie.<BR><BR>As to answer your question, I would say that the description of the journey through Moria is very dark (isn't it the title of the chapter by the way? <u>A journey in the dark</u>). And also that part when Gandalf talks to Frodo about the Ring and the Nazgul. I remember reading on another messageboard people who thought that the part with Galadriel was too dark and that she was too frightful... But doesn't she look terrible in the book as well? I mean, Frodo and Sam are afraid...<BR><BR>I can't think of anything else yet but if I do, I'll come back.<BR><BR><BR>Earendil
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Postby Falborn » Mon Apr 29, 2002 10:13 am

I find that, naturally enough, my interpretation of the book has become darker since the movie was released. What we don't see in the movie are the extended views of the Shire, Bombadil and Goldberry's home, Bree as an atractive and homey village, the feast at Rivendell, Nimrodel and the scene I would like to see most, Cerin Amroth. <BR><BR>Our LOTR movie experience most closely matches the book's dramatic narrative and the dialogue. While the color and light and place depictions in the movie are quite wonderful, we can absorb them on screen in seconds, whereas the book's written descriptions of the same color, light and place elements necessarily take longer to read and visualize in our minds. The moral or spiritual qualities of places are also more explicit in the written form.<BR><BR>To your question, my own experience is that LOTR becomes darker with each reading. This in part is no doubt the result of my own life experiences and with tragedy and human frailty, but truthfully, I also believe the dark reading is more nearly true. <BR><BR>To quote Aragorn at Weathertop, "It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts."<BR>Now, what does it mean to over egg the pudding?
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Postby ArPharazon » Mon Apr 29, 2002 10:45 am

An interesting post - and one I can empathise with. But is the darkness that emerges as one re-reads the book many times, not only a response to our own wider experience, but also a reflection of the fact that we notice more, and delve deeper in our exploration of what it all means?
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Postby Mithramien » Mon Apr 29, 2002 11:54 am

Now that you mention it, the darkness does definitely overwhelm you on subsequent readings, whereas off the bat you don't notice it as much.<BR><BR>I think that may be because on first reading, you are probably reading "fast," very sensitive to plot points only and very tied up in how the protagonists are going to triumph. On second reading, you allow the tone to absorb you a little more, so the darkness smacks you. Even worse, you know how the Third Age turns out - the passing of the elves, and of Frodo, the rise of Man, the loss of magic. And that just makes the rereading of passages involving those elements almost unbearably tragic.<BR><BR>In my first post I mentioned that I thought the darkness arose from Modernity and Tolkien's experience in war-ravaged England. I still believe that on one level. But after the discussion on myths and their dark influence, another line of thought arises.<BR><BR>Look at Tolkien's principle stylistic sources: Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths and sagas. Those are universally dour works. The Anglo-Saxons believed that gods and man lived together in the world, surrounded by an encircling sea in which lived giants and dragons; men and gods fought off the monsters, but they believed that at the end of time, the monsters would win and the world would pass away. This is echoed in the Nibelungenlied, where of course at the end you have the dissolution in fire of the world of the gods. And then you have Anglo-saxon poetry, which is as elegaic and nostalgic as you can get. The Rohirrim's poetry best captures this - "Where is the horn that was blowing..." is a particularly good example, and chillingly done in the TTT trailer.<BR><BR>The point is, the overwhelming philosophy of those ages was one of man fighting against great uncontrollable forces, unable in the end to keep them at bay or to keep his world together, and finding his only comfort in the painful sadness of elegy. Tolkien had obviously absorbed much of this. Probably, his own "conservative" personality resonated with the themes, hence his lifelong devotion to the works.<BR><BR>At any rate, the two darknesses certainly feel the same to me. It is an inevitable, wearying darkness - the darkness of sadness and loss and passing, and ultimately of memory, not the darkness of torment and hell and pain. In all of LOTR, the darkness doesn't so much emanate from the Nazgul or Sauron or Barad-Dur, as it does from the very world itself - Sauron is a symptom as much as anything (emphasized by the fact that the originator of evil, Melkor, is nowhere to be seen... Sauron is his after-effect). So, it's not the darkness of Satan, who embodies and emanates pure evil yet never outmatches the light of God. It's the darkness of Beowulf, who masters Grendel and the Dragon and is given great praise, yet dies with only his servant at his side, with no heir, saying, "Fate has swept away all my kinsmen, earls in their strength, to destined death. I have to go after." Dark indeed.
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Postby ArPharazon » Mon Apr 29, 2002 12:06 pm

I <b>LOVE</b> the analogy of Melkor as the "originator" of evil and sauron as his "after effect". Those who contribute to the thread on which of the two was more powerful and split hairs, might learn a lot if they could be understand your wise words. I have tried to express the same thought, but vastly less illuminatingly.<BR><BR>Thanks.
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Postby Falborn » Mon Apr 29, 2002 2:30 pm

For me the darker parts of the story began to emerge when I began looking past the destruction of the Ring. It's an enormously complicated narrative and it is pleasurable to experience the resolution of all those narrative threads. An ending where good triumphs over evil and the hero gets to go and live with the gods in paradise... well, that normally constitutes a happy ending. I guess for me, my understanding of the darker side of the story came about when I became more interested in the characters than the story and began to look for details that helped me understand them more fully. <BR><BR>As I reflect, Galadriel was the bridge for me. When I began to realize that a character who was that good and powerful and wise could lose the way she did, that's when I began to see the dark qualities of the book.<BR><BR>I am also taken with the concept of Melkor as the originator of evil and Sauron as the after affect. My supposition is that Sauron was a follower of Melkor in the Music before the creation of Arda. <BR><BR>I do have a problem with calling Melkor the originator of evil as my understanding is everything is of Iluvatar, including the rebellion of Melkor. <BR><BR>Now, about over egging the pudding... <BR><BR>
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Postby jeanelf » Mon Apr 29, 2002 2:42 pm

For me the darkness was always there; though never overwhelming to the point that I lost all hope. (I do usually get taken quite aback when the heads get lopped over the wall though. That seems so particularly horrible to me.) Anyway, although I think that I always fear the seriousness of the situation and the evil that could take over--I have never taken it lightly--the hobbits, Gandalf, Aragorn, the people of Gondor and Rohan to me all have a spirit that simply never looks like it will be completely overtaken. Even in the darkest hour, as long as they have hope, I have hope. I will say though that the movie with less dialogue and less of what the characters themselves are thinking at any point may drive this home a little easier. We aren't quite as lulled by Rivendell and the beauty of the elves, the singing, etc. Some of the lightness isn't there that may temporarily take our minds off the evil in the book.
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Postby truehobbit » Mon Apr 29, 2002 4:13 pm

The replies to this thread are awesome - I almost didn't dare to give a slightly different opinion, because I won't be able to argue quite so deeply and with so much background information as many people on this thread.<BR>But after seeing you all so unanimous about LOTR's darkness and only such a few attempts at showing the light, I couldn't resist to try.<BR><BR>First I think it's most important to distinguish, as most of you did, between the darkness of evil and that darkness of feeling that comes with all the loss the characters have to undergo.<BR><BR>The first kind, the darkness of evil, was imo impressive and it had to be - you have to give a formidable foe to such a great quest - but it never really made the book terrifying to the extent of being shocking. Maybe I overread it, but I don't recall Tolkien going into any great length about the way orcs look like or how they are created. The movie showed all that explicitly (knowing that "monsters" sell with a younger audience).<BR><BR>There's a similar thing about warfare.<BR>Some of you compare the book to classic myths like the Nibelungen. I never read LOTR when I was a kid, but when I was a kid you could be sure you'd sooner or later be given versions of that kind of myth, retold for young readers - I hated them! In classical myth there's nothing but gore and slaughter, no character, no thinking, just action and reaction: a kills b, so c gets d to kill a etc. When I first heard of LOTR it was described as a mythical tale and I thought, I'm never going to read that, I'm sure to hate it.<BR>Well, as you can guess by my being here, that has changed: I read it and loved it. One of the reasons was that there was so little warfare and killing in it! I mean, of course there are great battles, but look at what a tiny proportion of the whole they take in telling time!<BR>Also, in Tolkien, the whole business of killing takes on a bitterness that alone makes it tolerable for me to read about battles at all.<BR>And, again, PJ enlarges this and gives quite unproportional telling time to warfare. So, I think the movie was definitely darker than the book, with respect to what you might call the more obvious, superficial kind of darkness of the war against Sauron.<BR><BR>The other thing is the darkness of loss and change.<BR>I agree there is great sadness in all that. This is, as someone said, taken from real life, where the thought of the things you have lost, even if you won others in their stead, is almost unbearable. I cried for something like twenty minutes, when Frodo went to the Grey Havens! And the sadness of the elves at the awareness of the ending of their age, the hopelessness of the task, the forlornness of many moments set a pervasive tone of sadness that underscores the whole book.<BR><BR>But I never considered that darkness!<BR>For me there's incredible sweetness to it. I'd compare it to a piece of baroque music, so sad and sweet at the same time, it just feels like dying pleasantly. (Or, now I said that, maybe you could think of Keats' Ode to a Nightingale if you haven't yet experienced the musical example) But comparisons seem far-fetched here.<BR><BR>I mean, all this loss is sad, but it's also so perfectly right! One age ends, another begins, both will have their good and their bad sides. Sam, Pippin and Merry get older and change, they get respectable and paunchy and especially for Pippin and Merry their adventures will make good fireside tales of memory to tell to their grand-children. They may miss the old days at times when you met noble generosity and did courageous deeds, but what they have now is also good. Different, but just as good! Sam with his many children doing a good job as mayor probably making wise and just decisions, maybe having learnt mercy from Frodo but still being a bit strict at times, and living to ripe old age - I was just so completely happy when I read this appendix I cried again.<BR>Frodo - he had seen too much to resume his old life and though I would have wished for a miracle healing for his soul, I see it's more realistic like that.<BR><BR>And the reason you do feel so intensively about the characters is because you grow to love them so deeply - I can't recall another book that made me love so many characters, or any character, as completely as I loved most of the "good" characters in LOTR - and there's a lot of brightness in that feeling!<BR><BR>And one last trait I loved LOTR for, that makes it so different from classic myths: it's so absolutely English! And the religion of the English (I apologize for the stereotype if any native Englishman is offended at this) is Common Sense! Yes, you feel your losses and mourn, but then you pull yourself together and get on with life! It's the only way to survive.<BR>When Sam gets home in the end and says "Well, I'm back" that seemed to sum up the whole point of life, at least for ordinary mortals like us - there is darkness in everybody's life, but it does not rule!<BR><BR>This, I guess, is the opinion of a cheerful-hearted Hobbit, and I beg your patience for the length of it!
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Postby Novice » Mon Apr 29, 2002 4:59 pm

TrueHobbit: <i>First I think it's most important to distinguish, as most of you did, between the darkness of evil and that darkness of feeling that comes with all the loss the characters have to undergo.</i><BR><BR>Good point; there is undoubtedly the 'darkness of evil'--the evil incarnate of Sauron, the Nazgul, the Orcs, Shelob etc, which Wilko labels 'fantasy-horror'. It's interesting, though, that for most people on first reading this is the easiest to pick out and become involved in that black and white 'good vs evil' theme.<BR><BR>The 'darkness of feeling' that you speak of is that which is found in all meaningful myth, and has to do not only with the loss the characters experience but with the inner demons that humanity has to grapple with. Mithramien speaks of 'men and gods fought off the monsters, but they believed that at the end of time, the monsters would win and the world would pass away.' and 'man fighting against great uncontrollable forces, unable in the end to keep them at bay or to keep his world together, and finding his only comfort in the painful sadness of elegy.' --which I acknowledge as absolutely true. But more than this--mythology also struggles to make sense of the inner demons that modern psychology now gathers into its ken--the traditional vices of greed, envy, lust for power etc, and the twisted impulses of our deep unconscious. I think on some levels LoTR, as a meaningful and successful mythology, also grapples with these demons, and on rereading--and as others have noted, with increasing age and wider experiences--these deeper and more subtle and complex darknesses have their impact on our perception of the darkness.<BR><BR>And TrueHobbit, this is not to discount the 'lightness' you described. Quite right; LoTR is so successful and so meaningful because it does cover much of human experience and human impulse, the good and the bad. I think if it was all dark the story would not have been received so overwhelmingly and would not have the legion of fans it now commands. Dealing with only the 'dark side' of human nature would have resulted in quite a twisted, perverted tale, I think.<BR>
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Postby ash_a_leigh » Mon Apr 29, 2002 9:21 pm

I'm so glad this was resurrected. Several of us have been hitting around this subject without ever dealing with it head on, and here it is in all its glory!<BR>Mithramien, what a brilliant post! And Magpie, of course, I agree with you and your comments, as always.<BR><BR>The tale is dark. It is as dark as you feel like going. It is infinitely deep. There are dark corners of the narrative that barely describe horrors that you can not and do not want to imagine. What is that one line description given about the elven sons who ride out never forgetting the torment their mother suffered in Barad-dur? I have yet to find the backstory on that, but it haunts me nonetheless. As does the whole horrific idea that Orcs are Elves who were... open mind now and try to experience the darkness of this... captured, tormented and mutilated until they became Orcs. How long did that take? What horrific things were done to this people who love beauty, seek peace and live (unfortunately in the case of long tormentors) forever? And take Frodo's experience in Cirith Ungol. The purpose of the Orcs was to do the same to him, after getting approval from Sauron. He was only exposed to their hate and mind-numbing evil for a (relatively) short time, but it was horrific, nonetheless. Do any of us try to imagine what they would have said to him, in the spirit of tormenting him as much as possible without touching him, as they clearly said was their purpose when Sam overheard them?<BR>The movie was not too dark. It went to places where some of us didn't want to imagine going, places Tolkien left the light off. I, for one, have this small, but growing terror and fascination that Peter Jackson might just take us to Cirith Ungol with Frodo, or shed his light on some places that are equally terrifying.<BR>The books can only take you as far as your imagination will allow you to go. Some people only commit themselves so far and the movie forced them to go further than they were comfortable with. But for us who truly try to live with these characters, the books are dark. It is harder to come out of the dark when we are done.<BR>Like it is for Frodo.<BR>And as it was, I think, for Tolkien.<BR><BR>Ash
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Postby ArPharazon » Mon Apr 29, 2002 10:45 pm

Unless I have missed something - the tale of the "Elvish sons who go out to rescue their mother from Barad-dur", to which you refer,is a slightly skewed version of part of Elrond's story.<BR><BR>Elrond's wife, Celebrian (Galadriel's daughter) was captured by orcs and "tormented". Her sons rescued her, but she was so damaged by the experience that she soon left ME and went into the west. There's a whole thread on what might have happened to Celebrian which contains some interesting postings.
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