A Tolkien quote that reveals much…

jrr-tolkien“I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall of Mordor, but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice, and prosperity, would be become discontented and restless — while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors — like Denethor or worse… Not worth doing.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, #256, to Colin Bailey)

Tolkien was a great man.  To realise the worth of a story even before it was written and then abort the project speaks volumes to me.  He was a story-teller and not a mercenary.

8 thoughts on “A Tolkien quote that reveals much…

  1. Amen. It also shows Tolkien was a good judge of human character & nature. As you pointed out a bit in one of your posts over at Letters from the Perilous Realm. Sorry I haven’t commented there but it was while I was out of town & had a very small tiny keyboard to write on as you’ll see this summer. Plus, most of the bases were covered over there.

    But back to Tolkien & extrapolating this to Rowling, she can’t really write anything about what happens in the time frame of the Epilogue or about what happens to the Potter & Weasley kids without downplaying & denigrating her final statement, “All was well.” Because such stories would deal with human beings & human beings are as Tolkien pointed out very quickly sated with good & very forgetful of what has happened in the past & quickly forget its lessons.

    Tolkien acknowledged such things in the text of LOTR itself when Gandalf advises the council that evils will come in the future because Sauron was only a servant or emissary & there were other evils in the world but that they were called at the present time to deal only with the evil they had before them & not to try to solve all the world’s ills.

  2. To be fair to men and their works, Tolkien had placed so much of what he considered beautiful and noble in the race of elves – and how not, connected as they were more closely to Iluvatar and the Maia than any other race – that to write in their absence would inevitably have seemed dark and depressing to him. Think about the words he used to describe Luthien Tinuviel – Morning Star – and then think of a world without that beauty.

    In identifying what was beautiful so closely with the elves, I think Tolkien was already making a statement about the nature of mankind. When he wrote that beauty out of the world, he was making another statement. Fair enough – it was his world to order as he saw fit. But to cavil about the nature of man afterwards seems not very logical.

  3. Of course, the Elves weren’t all sweetness & light either. There was already much darkness & corruption among the Elves before the race of Men even awakened in Middle-Earth.

    But Tolkien wasn’t identifying everything so closely with the Elves, he also painted the portrait of the fall of Men & the diminishment of their race. The following quote from near the end of ROTK I think shows that.

    “In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone.”

    With Tolkien there’s the big theme of a long diminishment from the Eldar Days to the Latter Days.

  4. Yeah Red Rocker,
    I’m not sure I totally agree with your comment. Like revgeorge wrote, the elves were a whole bunch of no fun for a lot of their history too; greed, revenge, kinslaying, pride, betrayal, corruption.

    I think the quote shows that he wasn’t interested in telling that type of story- particularly as a continuation of the Silmarillion/ LOTR story. Like he wrote- they were fighting the long defeat. Surely that ends in FINAL defeat. What’s that, the third law of thermodynamics or something?

    Can you imagine a writer now after writing a success like LOTR not writing a sequal? Not when New Line was heavy breathing into the phone every five minutes. The’d have to go through your back catalogue and ferret out a prequel or two…

  5. korg, agree that writing LOTR would tap anyone out. It wasn’t just that Tolkien had invested so much imagination in the saga of the One Ring, it was that for him this was the final glorious battle. The war did not end – it will never end until the final battle, as you say – but from Sauron’s downfall on, the battles were going to be much less heroic, and much more dreary. Not the stuff of epic myth.

    Fortunately, our JKR is younger than Tolkien when he penned LOTR and she almost certainly has many more works of imagination and adventure left in her.

  6. Tolkien’s Silmarillion was published after LOTR and, as the quote above shows, he found it too depressing to write a 4th Age story . Do you think Rowling will be same? ie. The back story is what she’ll be limited to if she continues to write in the Potter millieu.

  7. I think that JKR has a different kind of imagination than JRR. More playful, more tangential, more dynamic. This is not a knock on JRR – they’re different, is all. Obviously they both write about the eternal struggle between good and evil. But his scope is larger; he writes epic myth. Her scope is smaller; her heroes are people first. I think there’s more room for her to create new stories, and different stories, just because of her scope. A monomyth can be limiting.

  8. “A monomyth can be limiting.”

    Awesome line.

    A monomyth can be quite thorough and complete.

    But, that just makes it all the more limiting as well.

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