Apr. 24th, 2017

sartorias: (JRRT)
“Oh Kheled-zaram fair and wonderful,” said Gimli. “There lies the crown of Durin till he wakes. Farewell!” He bowed, and turned away . . .

Gimli isn’t at all the generic handsome hero, but I think he is one of the most romantic figures in the entire book.

The companions eventually camp, Sam gets his orc-cut wrapped up, and then Aragorn discovers Frodo’s mithril. After he binds up Frodo’s bruised ribs, he warns him to wear the mithril night and day. I remember all those years ago wondering how Frodo’s quest could possibly get worse—but at least he had Aragorn, and Boromir as backup. Well, surprise, surprise.

The first signs of Gollum on their trail before they hit Lothlorien. The mood is set up with the plaintive song “Nimrodel” with Legolas and Gimli sparking off one another as Legolas mentions the rest of that sad story.

They meet mallorns—and dangerous elves, led by Haldir. Not only dangerous, but they don’t have all that good a rep: Boromir doesn’t want to enter Lothlorien at all, as he’s heard that those who go in don’t come out. And Haldir and his company are pretty straightforward in their wariness, bordering on threat.

Aragorn once again proves himself a good leader when he insists that everybody be blindfolded, after Gimli is nearly kicked out.

The sadness and tension gets some relief in hobbit banter: though Sam sticks to etiquette, calling Pippin Mr. Pippin, he is hardly subservient:

The hobbits do not like sleeping in a tree. Pippin says, "I hope, if I do go to sleep in this bed-loft, then I shan't roll off."

To which Sam replies, "Once I do get to sleep, I shall go on sleeping, whether I roll off or no. And the less said, the sooner I'll drop off, if you take my meaning."

This brings to mind the earlier discussion about social strata in the Shire: the Tooks are the closest to gentry or even nobility of a sort, but they aren’t exactly looked up to by the respectable hobbits of the Shire. Sam’s dad, usually called the Gaffer, hoped that Bilbo’s teaching Sam to read wouldn’t have adverse effects. As I recall—I mean to be watching for this—though Sam loves Elves, and memorizes what he can, the authority Sam quotes most often is the Gaffer.

They enter, and it’s here that we get the highest contrast to what Frodo is going to be facing soon.

When his eyes were in turn uncovered, Frodo looked up and caught his breath. They were standing in an open space. To the left stood a great mound, covered with a sward of grass as green as springtime in the Elder days. Upon it, as a double crown, grew two circles of trees: the outer had bark of snowy white, and were leafless but beautiful in their shapely nakedness; the inner were mallorn trees of great height, still arrayed in pale gold.

And

The others cast themselves down upon the frequent grass, but Frodo stood a while still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shape seemed at once clear-cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured forever. He saw no color but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.

I think Tolkien has purposefully chosen Frodo’s POV for this section. He could as easily have picked Sam, or one of the other hobbits, or even Aragorn or Gimli. But it is Frodo he chooses — the one who is bearing the ring longest. The one who is going to have to fight its magic longest. And I will get to magic.

First they are drawn further inside, and again it is Frodo who sees Aragorn wrapped up in memory before he says, “Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth, and hear my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I.”
As a kid reader, I found this subtle glimpse into Aragorn's private heart whizzing right past me. But as an old reader I can see the cost he pays, all the stronger for how he suppresses it and turns wearily to grief for Gandalf, and to duty.

The company then gets to meet Celeborn and Galadriel, and after all the welcomes, Galadrien’s first words are a mild contradiction what Celeborn’s observation about a different number turning up: “Nay, there was no change of counsel.”

She comes down a lot stronger a little later, after the story of Moria has been told. Celeborn exclaims, “And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria."

Once more, Galadriel contradicts him: “He would be rash indeed that said that thing.”

As a kid reader, I found these two pretty much stick figures in their awe-inspiring beauty. But reading this again as an older reader, and having picked up a little bit of the Elvish history, I find myself trying to untangle their relationship. It is clear that her power and her insight go far beyond his, and yet she is by his side. But not for long — at the end, when she goes west, she goes alone. I’m curious about what this means.

Anyway, she goes on to support Gandalf’s choice in entering Moria, and then makes fair speech about the dwarves. When she speaks in his own language to Gimli, that pretty much knocks him out of the park.

She tests the company one by one. Boromir clearly resents this intrusion. He reminds everybody that the men of Minas Tirith are true to their word—another minor-key note about oaths.

As the elves and the company grieve for Gandalf, for the first time Frodo is moved to poetry. And afterward, we get an interesting conversation between Sam and Frodo, after the latter asks Sam what he thinks about elves. They get on the subject of magic, and though Sam feels that there is some how magic all around them, he still wants to see a bit of elf-magic.

Well, he gets his chance when Galadriel offers them the opportunity to look into the waters, after which Frodo offers her the ring. So much has been said about that scene — the only thing I am going to comment on that struck me on this reading is the fact that Galadriel knows how many times Frodo has put on the ring. But that, too, needs to be saved for a discussion of JRRT’s magic.

The decision is made to go, and Frodo senses conflict within Boromir. The elves give them lembas and the cloaks, and Pippin asks if they are magic cloaks, and the leader of the elves says, “I do not know what you mean by that.”

I’ll come back to it, but I wanted to note Gimli’s romantic farewell, appreciated by the elves, another melancholy note as nothing can ever come of his unswerving devotion.

“Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror.”

We got up close and personal with elves through these chapters. JRRT conveys a sense of their longlived natures through that air of melancholy, and in moment like Gimli wondering if memory for them is like waking, and Legolas commenting that they don’t count years, as they flow by in flickers of seasons, as they face their diminishing and losing their land.

Finally the company sails down the river accompanied by the song of the elves, and though the music is beautiful, Frodo finds no comfort. But he will always remember it.

Important stuff there: In Rivendell, Gandalf saw him appearing a little transparent, as if a light glowed in him. With these words sinking into Frodo’s heart, we are inexorably set up for his particular road. In a sense, he almost becomes a wraith—even in victory, a normal life will never be his, it’s almost as if he becomes too light to leave a perceivable footprint in the Shire—but this is a wraith utterly the opposite of the Nine.

Okay, I just scrolled up, and I guess this ramble got long. So magic on the next rock—and after that, the end of the fellowship, and this book.
sartorias: (JRRT)
When Galadriel first offers to show her mirror to Sam, she mentions elf-magic. I think she is kidding him in a mild way because a little later when the subject of magic comes up again, she says she is not certain what they understand by “magic.”

I found this a big whoa as a kid, then I thought, well, of course, the elves are magic, so it’s probably invisible to them.

But on later readings, I’m not so sure that that isn’t too simple.

The other day, as I was waiting for my lunch to cook, I was out in the patio blowing bubbles. As the breeze took them up and away, and I watched the shimmer of colors, I was thinking about how innocent such art can be — if you want to call bubbles art. In this instance I’m defining art as something that strikes you as beautiful, that gives you that inward lift of the heart. You see them, or you ignore them; they don't fool you, they don't influence you, except perhaps to make you smile.

Writers who create secondary universes do not have to write about magic. There are many successful other-world and/or epic fantasies that have no magic in them. But most consider magic one of the perks of secondary universe creation: it's fun to imagine dragons, or being able to fly, or shape changing, or whisking the dust out of your rooms with a snap of a magic cloth. And of course the bad guys mark themselves as bad guys by using their magic as weaponry, to destroy, or to create ugly things for whatever (or no) purpose.

It is not my intent here to slamdunk any author's magic system. Most of them are pretty clever. Others are more generic, but if they help make a rousing story, what is the harm? In retrospect, the only kind of magic that irritates the fluff out of me is the one in which women (and somehow it is always women) have to remain virgin, i.e. "pure." Nobody seems to bother about the state of male sexual experience.

Now, if any flavor of gender has to remain celibate for reasons of self-discipline or sacrifice, that is a different matter. It’s akin to magic having a cost, whether you have to use your own blood—or someone else’s—or magic-making gives you a headache, or even makes you fall down unconscious. The self-discipline of magic is comparable to going to school, high school, college, and grad school: years of study and practice. Or, magic can be gained, earned, found, or won.

There is also the gamer magic, which has precise mathematical formulae and the spells work the same every time, just as geometric rules do.

Magic in short can be the equivalent of energy, or power. I, at least, perceive these as two very different things: energy being, for most purposes, neutral, but power implies influence at the least, and at the most dominion.

Years ago, when I first read and reread LOTR, I thought that magic was part of the Elvish nature and therefore sort of invisible to them, in the way we don’t think about our autonomic systems. This prompted those repeated reactions about not understanding what is meant by magic.

I assumed that Elvish magic in action was the equivalent of sympathetic magic, only it works. At least, the way I understand sympathetic magic is this: as you make something, the energy and effort of your work is meaningful, and your thought — whatever it might be — adds virtue to the thing you make. The elves think of nature when weaving their cloaks, so that the wearer takes on the appearance of nature, and is overlooked by inimical or indifferent eyes. Lembas is simple, unleavened bread, but made by hands whose heads are thinking strength and healing into it, so it carries virtue beyond its ingredients.

But on this reading I began to wonder if I was missing something. After all, if these elves are in effect made of magic, and we know that Galadriel is powerful, then why aren't they living in gorgeous palaces, dripping with jewels, wearing fantastic clothes, and pretty much existing in states of artistically conspicuous consumption? Well, we can point to Rivendell as an example of a lovely place, maybe even a palace, although the description makes it out to be more comfortable and appealing to the eye than luxurious. Feng shui, maybe.

Can it be that the elves learned their lesson in the past? Rivendell is there as an outpost and a safehouse. It’s in the nature of elves to make that outpost as pleasing to the senses as can be.

When Frodo offers Galadriel the ring, she describes a fairly specific what-if. As I was reading at this time I thought, this temptation is not a new thing. She’s been tempted before, perhaps under different circumstances. Or maybe it’s just that she has gained such wisdom (and power) that she has become the ring’s equal, which is why she knows how many times Frodo has worn it. And she can read Sauron’s mind.

At any rate, the glass she gives Frodo, Sam's soil and the mallorn nut, the lembas and the cloaks, will indeed influence and affect, but in specific ways. One might say limited ways. These gifts, excellent as they are, from someone with great power, will not take take over the minds of the two hobbits in order to better assure their success, though their task is desperately important. Galadriel—who can read Sauron’s mind—lets Boromir go, troubled as he is, and she also lets those frail hobbits go, though their task is almost hopeless. Almost.

In contrast, the ring, with its almost-sentient piece of Sauron in it, seeks any road to dominion, including through fair intentions. Galadriel knows it, Frodo is beginning to grasp it, but Boromir is sure he knows best. He is not a villain—JRRT made sure to show him in a good light, both on Caradhras and in Moria, but he is very convinced he knows best, and of course he means well—he only wants to defend his beloved homeland.

The ring can work with that.

Which touches on Sauron, power, and the orcs. I want to leave talking about the orcs for when we meet some, but as I recollect, at the end of the battle outside the gates, when the Ring goes with Gollum into the lava and Sauron’s power is zapped to nothing, his entire force reacts as if struck by the afterwash of an atomic blast. And yet they very clearly had cognizance, and the ability to make choices before. But it’s as if Sauron’s will hummed underneath their consciousness— invited in because it made them feel powerful, too—and when it was gone, so went their sense of Yeah, this is gonna be a piece of cake, har har. and left them with the fear they hadn't known for a long time.

So, to the elves, “magic” is the power to force change, to dominate. What they do is not that—but if it isn’t magic, what is it?

Then I thought, wasn’t there something about magic in “On Fairy Stories”? The passages that I've reread the most were those on internal consistency and eucatastrophe, and on what “escape” means. (And, BTW, it is fascinating that several passages here are very close to what Vladimir Nabokov writes about on the purpose of fiction, and two writers more different in all possible ways would be difficult to find.)

But I digress. Opening my sadly yellowed, fragile book, yep, here’s some relevant stuff:

This is for them [elves] a form of Art, and distinct from wizardry or magic, properly so called. They do not live in it, though they can, perhaps, afford to spend more time at it than human artists can. The Primary World, Reality, of elves and men is the same, if differently valued and perceived.

We need a word for this Elvish craft, but all the words that have been applied to it have been blurred and confused with other things. Magic is ready to hand, and I have used it above, but I should not have done so: magic should be reserved for the operations of the Magician. Art is the human process that produces by the way (it is not it's only or ultimate object) Secondary Belief.

Part of the same sort, if more skilled and effortless, the elves can also use, or so the reports seem to show; but the more potent and especially Elvish craft I will, for lack of a less debatable word, call Enchantment. Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Magic produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced, fay or mortal, it remains distinct from the other two; it is not an art but a technique; its desire is power in this world, domination of things and wills.


The essay goes on about sub-creation, but I thought that worth quoting and thinking about as we begin to get closer to Ent magic, Saruman’s magic, and of course that of Mordor, after the splendid introduction to Galadriel’s benevolent authority.
sartorias: (Default)
Taking time out from the LOTR read to remind folks that this year's Con or Bust fundraiser has opened, and Rachel Manija Brown's and my entry is a personalized (any way you wish) copy of REBEL, which comes out next month.

There are also tons of other goodies, from books to food items! Take a look!

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