John Rateliff calls them ‘Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy,‘ though he acknowledges that ‘… of Tolkienian Fantasy’ might be ‘nearer the mark.’ The aphorisms appear to me to be rather cryptic (in his commentary John Rateliff also has to occasionally give in and tell us that he has ‘no idea what Taum is talking about here’ so I am at least in good company), so I thought that I would put down my thoughts in the hope of attracting comments that may help my understanding.
My understanding of these first six aphorisms has already been helped a lot by John Rateliff's comments to which I will frequently refer.
|‘Odin the Wanderer’
by Georg von Rosen
John Rateliff has seen Tolkien's world as being rather teleological, but I am not convinced these two views are necessarily at odds: within Tolkien's sub-creation, I would say that the purpose of Arda is also largely the cause of much of what is and happens within Arda — one might even argue that Arda, and indeed all of Eä, is caused by Eru's purpose with it.
The first part, where Santoski states that the world of Tolkien's mythos (his sub-created world) is ‘related to but not identical’ to our Primary World (to borrow the phrasing of Tolkien's ‘On Fairy-Stories’) seems at first obvious, though it does of course, as David Bratman implies in his comment, depend on what Santoski meant with that phrase. Tolkien said that ‘The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary,’ and though this means that there is a very great overlap between Tolkien's Secondary World and our Primary World (Middle-earth, as Ian Collier states in a comment, ‘ springs from Tolkien's experience and knowledge of the primary world’), they are still not identical — Tolkien both subtracts from and adds to the Primary World in the sub-creation of his Secondary World, and net result of this process can, to my mind, very well be described by saying that the two worlds are ‘related to but not identical.’ As I say in a comment, Tolkien sets up a situation in which his Secondary World in external fact derives from our (or rather his) present world, but also where, in internal fact, our present Primary World derives from his Secondary World.
In the third aphorism, Taum Santoski asserts that Tolkien's mythic world is ‘in another order of time,’ referring to H.A. Frankfort's idea of the absolute past:
This deliberate co-ordination of cosmic and social events shows most clearly that time to early man did not mean a neutral and abstract frame of reference, but rather a succession of recurring phases, each charged with a peculiar value and significance. Again, as in dealing with space, we find that there are certain ‘regions’ of time which are withdrawn from direct experience and greatly stimulate speculative thought. They are the distant past and the future. Either of these may become normative and absolute; each then falls beyond the range of time altogether. The absolute past does not recede, nor do we approach the absolute future gradually. The ’Kingdom of God’ may at any time break into our present. For the Jews the future is normative. For the Egyptians, on the other hand, the past was normative; and no pharaoh could hope to achieve more than the establishment of the conditions ‘as they were in the time of Rē, in the beginning.’
Before philosophy: the intellectual adventure of ancient man: an essay on speculative thought in the ancient Near East by H. and H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson and Thorkild Jacobsen. URL: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL24401493M/Before_philosophy
|Receding into the distance,
disappearing from view.
I am not sure what Santoski may mean by saying that the mythic past in Tolkien's world ‘percolates through “history” from time to time,’ though I suspect that this may be because I take the image too literally (there is not a slow seeping through a porous membrane). Still, given Tolkien's use of the musical metaphor, I would prefer to say that the mythical past resonates through all of time, that it is as a standing wave on time between the Word (‘Eä!’) and the final chord. The Golden Age that is never brought any closer in Time may be Arda remade (or Arda Healed), in which case the Golden Ages that tarnish is every temporary victory within Time, from the Noontide of Valinor through the rule of King Elessar and further. The tarnish on the first Golden Age(s) is light as they remain close in the absolute past, but with the degeneration of the mythological world, the tarnish grows stronger until there can only be an echo of a golden age that quickly recedes in time.
|Four elements — a
simple explanatory model
In the continuation Santoski speaks of re-establishing a ‘harmony with the present world’ through participating in the mythic powers of Tolkien's world, mediated by the words. Here I am reminded of Tolkien's statements in ‘On Fairy-Stories’ about Enchantment. I am also reminded of Bruce Charlton's thoughts in his Notion Club Papers blog that Tolkien's goal was ‘recovery of history as myth,’ though Santoski's aphorisms would, I think, rather lead to the postulation of a goal of restoring an absolute past.
|Inspiration or plagiarism?
John Rateliff thinks that Santoski's claim here is ‘entirely specious, eloquence overwhelming the argument.’ Personally I also suspect a high degree of speciousness, but as Rateliff wisely adds, we may not be seeing the subtlety here.
The argument that if myth and history can be split into two categories, then ‘their definitions must be different processes’ is, I believe, false. There may be different processes involved, but this does not follow necessarily, nor does it follow that such differences of process necessarily the defining difference, even if they exist. I do think that there are procedural differences involved, but I also think that it is more a matter of a complex interplay of many processes where there are differences in the focus and weights of the contributing processes, and thus that the dichotomy of processes is false.
Myth? History? Legend?
The other example I have come up with is the historicizing of mythology that we seen in some medieval accounts, of which the one that I know best is the inclusion by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum of historicized versions of some of the Old Norse myths.
In both of these examples, I do think that Taum Santoski's distinction between perception vs. observation of events can make sense to some degree, but they certainly do not fit a dichotomy, and I believe that this perceived difference, even if correct, is a result of some underlying defining difference that would, I suspect, have to be put in teleological terms: i.e. the defining difference is not in how the account is produced, but rather in why it is produced. To complete the circle of the first six aphorisms, I believe that the differences between the purpose of myth and the purpose of history is to a large extent aetiological: there is in both an element of attempting to explain the present world by causes in the past, but they attempt to explain different aspects of the present world and they look at different causes altogether.