[Marxism] HM and fantasy/Tolkien articles

DCQ davecq at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 28 23:00:55 MST 2013


I'll just say that I disagree profoundly with your reading of Tolkien. In fact, I think most critics--Marxist and otherwise--have missed the boat entirely on Tolkien (a failure that I think comes at least partly from a historic inability to deal with popular fiction--so-called genre fiction--as "real" literature). 

And your assertion that his main source was Wagner is just wrong. Tolkien certainly loved and was a scholar of the Eddas, the Volsungasaga, and Nibelungenlied, but he always disliked Wagner's adaptation. He even wrote his own translation/adaptation published just a few years ago that I havent yet gotten to, "The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun." Of course, that doesn't preclude Wagner being a source, or at least a co-source, but it was not his main one by any means. (I make no claim about whether or not Tolkien's annoyance at Wagner is justified or not; Tolkien certainly had some obnoxious attitudes (as well as some surprisingly progressive and avant guard ones) towards certain artists and even whole genres.) 

soli,
DCQ

On Feb 28, 2013, at 9:44 PM, Daniel Koechlin wrote:

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> What always surprises me is how far Tolkien's work is conservative and reactionary when compared to his primary source of inspiration : Wagner.
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> In Wagner's Ring, the ring grants absolute mastery (as well as invisibility through the magic cape) to its yielder, and yet it carries a curse, the curse of Power. Wotan witnesses the two brothers quarreling and Fafner killing his brother to gain the ring. Thoughout the Ring des Nibelungen, Wotan muses on the fact that "he who has absolute mastery over others" is "the unfreest of all". The ring (power) can only be used by "one who does not know, and has never known, love" which means Alberecht steals it, then it passes to Loge (Loki) the Trickster, then Fafner, and it corrupts every being that strives to posses it.
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> The ring is the result of the powers of Nature giving up their supremacy to the powers of order, craft and civilization. And it is the original curse of seeking mastery over the world, as Erda warns Wotan. The Ring symbolizes alienation and Wotan is forced to try and recover it because of all the compacts he made. Yet the ring can only be won by a being that is completely free from external compulsion : Man. Only Man can do what the Gods cannot, free himself from binding contracts. And so we have Siegfried, the "untainted" man, the autonomous being, the untutored free spirit brought up by Mime, the smith, the hero who acts of his own free will, enter the picture.
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> Wagner's "ring" gives rise to so many layers of interpretation, to so many insights into the nature of power, technology and alienation, that of course, it becomes obvious that Wagner was influenced by German philosophy, German politics, German Romanticism. It is quite clear that he felt the industrial revolution was a curse in disguise, that mankind was trying to free itself from the forces of Nature but that this freedom could bring even more servitude. He was also critical of religion as a force that alienates, that "takes away", as when Wotan remarks that "I am the great god and yet can only produce slaves, I need a being that I do not control and can assume his own destiny without any guidance on my part".
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> Now compare this to the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's story is essentially a retelling of Wagner's ring but it lacks all the profoundity of the original. And the resaon for this is Tolkien's entrusive Christianity. Sauron is bad because he was corrupted by the desire for power. Ditto Gollum and Saruman. The meek (the small hobbits) resist temptation because they are of a race of free people that live in Jolly Good England (the Shire) and do not venture unto the continent.  They are meek and inherit the Earth being the only beings capable of crossing Middle Earth to destroy the cursed ring. There is no other level of analysis. That's the ultimate message of Tolkien : the English are a simple folk and Providence favours the humble as they do not create the kind of self-destructing karma that more sophisticated intellecutals garner with their delusions of grandeur, self-importance and grandiose ideologies.
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> Wotan would have sniggered. But then he also knows that the Götterdammerung is near. Tolkien tried to copy some of the Pagan pessimism of the original by having the Elves condemned to cross the "Western Ocean" because the "Time of Men is nigh". The result is a reworking of the final crossing of the river in Pilgrim's Progress. Death is nought to Christians as they know that the Eldar live in a blissful state on the other side. Wagner's ring is the complete opposite of this reassuring Christian recasting of the Pagan story of the Wälsungen. Wotan is slowly dying as the universe he presides over is threatened by chaos and free will. Fate is the only force that compels Gods, Trolls and Giants, and yet mankind has the unique opportunity of forging its own destiny.
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> By renouncing the Pagan worldview, Tolkien left his saga with a lack of depth which he tried to compensate by inventing a whole mythology which harkens back to the neo-platonistic explanations of evil through successive emanations of the Godhead.
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> At first it is captivating, but then, after reading the Silmarillon, and all the other posthumous tales, one gets progressively bored with narratives that are always exactly the same. There is no change. It is always the same tale of Melkor/Sauron being eternally defeated and chained up. Eru/God and his Providence mean Good always prevails (Aurë enteluva!).
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> Jackson should have directed a modern version of Wagner. The Gods trying to outwit the Giants. Loge and his tricks. The tragic deaths of Siegmund and Siegfried. Breathtaking images of volcanoes, the watery deep, the netherworld, the primeval forest...
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