Tolkien and evolution?

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Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Ringdrotten on Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:17 am

Something crossed my mind when I was rereading the Hobbit a while ago, but I only remembered it again now. Did Tolkien, a Catholic if I am not mistaken, believe in Darwin's theory of evolution? The reason I started wondering about this was something I read in chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark:


"There are strange things living in the pools and lakes in the hearts of mountains: fish whose fathers swam in, goodness only knows how many years ago, and never swam out again, while their eyes grew bigger and bigger and bigger from trying to see in the blackness"

Fish adapting to the new situation by slowly improving their eyesight - surely this sounds very evolution-ish? Anyone know what Tolkien's view on evolution was (did he ever publicly express a view on it at all)?

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:20 am

Interesting question to which I have no idea of the answer! But that passage does sound very Darwin to me.

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:31 am

I'm not aware of any definitive statement by Tolkien one way or another (though I may have just missed it -- where's Elthir when I need him/her? Very Happy ) but there was a very interesting discussion on this topic by Halfwise, GB, and myself on the old forum. Fortunately we recovered that thread since it was a favourite of a couple of people, myself included, and you can peruse our discussion at this link. Smile

One particularly relevant quote from that thread, which I have just now double-checked in the Letters and quoted in full, is:

Letter #211 wrote:Pterodactyl. Yes and no. I did not intend the steed of the Witch-King to be what is now called a 'pterodactyl', and often is drawn (with rather less shadowy evidence than lies behind many monsters of the new and fascinating semi-scientific mythology of the 'Prehistoric'). But obviously it is pterodactylic and owes much to the new mythology, and its description even provides a sort of way in which it could be a last survivor of older geological eras.

GB thought that this was pretty conclusive, and I think that it is at the very least illuminating. study
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:41 am

I had forgotten all about that debate. Some good stuff in there. Very Happy

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Ringdrotten on Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:50 am

Indeed, been catching up a little on it now, great stuff Very Happy Thanks for that quote, Eldo! It does at least prove that Tolkien wasn't one of the "the earth is only 6000 years old"-crew, which could also mean he didn't renounce evolution. Great discussion you had going in that thread, will have to read all of it Very Happy

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Saradoc on Tue Jun 21, 2011 6:46 pm

I have no idea if Mr Tolkien was an evolutionist or creationist, and unless you're extremely clever (or silly) work it out from his Middle Earth writings- there must be a good deal of influences in his writings, and considering that he also tried not to make his beliefs overly obvious in his work, and as I haven't read that much of his work outside of ME, I couldn't really say what I thought he believed in! Sure there are Christian traits shown in his work- but duh, he was a devout Catholic, that we all know! And that was shared by many writers, and not necessarily Christian either!

But it is very interesting subject Ringdrotten!

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:02 pm

I'm glad the link was of some help, Ringdrotten. Very Happy Thinking on the matter at greater length, I think there's something else worth noting. While The Silmarillion as it existed for most of Tolkien's life and as it was published in 1977 is full of magic and deities and other supernatural events, towards the end of his Tolkien started to reconsider some of this. He began to consider the idea that the mythology of The Silmarillion was actually of Mannish origin, passed down by the Numenoreans, and that what "really" happened was different and more realistic.

Tolkien realized that a lot of what he had written was implausible. Massive old growth forests existing before the sun, developed human societies existing a few hundred years after the first humans, the sun and the moon being created from leaves, etc. Razz Fairly standard mythological stuff, but not at all historical. Tolkien didn't throw away the idea of the Valar or of the supernatural or of God, but he revised the timeline to make it much longer, revised the creation of the Sun and Moon, and basically said that the "true" version of what had happened just wasn't passed down by human societies, but was mixed with their own existing myths.

If you own the tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth, Morgoth's Ring, you can read more about this in the "Myths Transformed" section. It's all very interesting, although it would have required many drastic re-writes and Tolkien never finished it, partially because he died not much later. I don't recall that this touches directly upon the matter of evolution, but it does at least show that Tolkien was thinking about scientific plausibility and wanted to have at least some level of it during the later phase of his writing. In my opinion, this is further evidence that Tolkien wasn't an American-style "science is evil!" creationist, and makes it more likely that he would have accepted the theory of evolution, although it certainly isn't conclusive. Smile
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Ringdrotten on Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:18 pm

Your knowledge of the Tolkien universe and of the man himself continue to amaze me! Thanks, Eldo Very Happy

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:21 pm

No problem Ringdrotten, and thank you for your kind words. Smile Morgoth's Ring isn't really my strong suit but "Myths Transformed" has always fascinated me, so I'm a bit more familiar with that.
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Elthir on Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:54 pm

from the linked thread: 'Tolkien struggled with this question himself. He wrote a series of notes and short essays (published as Myths Transformed in the tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring. He considered treating the Silmarillion myths as mannish legends, passed down to the Third Age by Numenor, but based on hearsay and traditional legends more than historical "fact". In this conception the Sun and the Moon were more in line with our modern understanding of them, the timeline was extended to allow more time for human civilizations to develop, and a number of other changes were considered. In the end, Tolkien realized that this would require a full re-writing of his First Age tales, and he never followed through on it.'

I'm probably reading this incorrectly, but do you mean that Myths Transformed (considered as a somewhat coherent collective) was intended to be a mannish styled version?


If you own the tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth, Morgoth's Ring, you can read more about this in the "Myths Transformed" section. It's all very interesting, although it would have required many drastic re-writes and Tolkien never finished it, partially because he died not much later.

I think the Myths Transformed notes are dated about late 1950s early 1960s, and if so, only because I'm older than you I am forced to say Tolkien had 'plenty' of time! LOL!

Wink


I have my ideas about this subject in general, but just to add for now (not that Eldorion or anyone is necessarily unaware of it): Tolkien did think about revising the origin of the Sun even before The Lord of the Rings was published; and ultimately he made a very interesting revision to The Hobbit...


'... before they came back into the Wide World. In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight before the raising of the Sun and Moon; and afterwards they wandered in the forests that grew beneath the sunrise. They loved best the edges of the woods,...'

[changed by JRRT in 1966 to read]

'... before some came back into the Wide World. In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew tall in lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods,...'

My emphasis of course!
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:44 pm

Elthir wrote:I'm probably reading this incorrectly, but do you mean that Myths Transformed (considered as a somewhat coherent collective) was intended to be a mannish styled version?

I meant that Tolkien toyed with the idea that the entire body of work published as The Silmarillion was a collection of Mannish myth. I don't know if he ever settled on this idea permanently (or as permanent as anything in the legendarium was), but I had in mind the following quote from Text I of Myths Transformed, though I was speaking from memory earlier.

It is now clear to me that in any case the Mythology must actually be a 'Mannish' affair. (Men are really only interested in Men and in Men's ideas and visions.) The High Eldar living and being tutored by the demiurgic beings must have known, or at least their writers and loremasters must have known, the 'truth' (according to their measure of understanding). What we have in the Silmarillion etc. are traditions (especially personalized, and centered upon actors, such as Feanor) handed on by Men in Numenor and later in Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back - from the first association of the Dunedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand - blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas.

I don't have the time right now to read through more of Myths Transformed (I'm about to meet a friend for dinner and The Two Towers at a local theatre), but I really should review that chapter before commenting further.

Elthir wrote:I think the Myths Transformed notes are dated about late 1950s early 1960s, and if so, only because I'm older than you I am forced to say Tolkien had 'plenty' of time! LOL!

As I said, I was speaking from memory earlier, and I appear to have misremembered the dates. Christopher Tolkien's introduction dates Text I to 1958, so I was clearly mistaken earlier. Embarassed
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Ringdrotten on Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:58 pm

Eldorion wrote:I'm about to meet a friend for dinner and The Two Towers at a local theatre

The jealous-meter is ticking dangerously Mad

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 22, 2011 3:56 am

Eldorion wrote: 'I meant that Tolkien toyed with the idea that the entire body of work published as The Silmarillion was a collection of Mannish myth. I don't know if he ever settled on this idea permanently (or as permanent as anything in the legendarium was), but I had in mind the following quote (...)'

Ah, I was reading it wrong I guess, as I thought might be the case considering your other posts.

Concerning the idea, for myself I think Tolkien settled on it, or at least there are enough references to make a pretty strong argument in my opinion. I think JRRT abandoned Myths Transformed (alas for the star-imagines!) in part because he realized his new characterization of the Silmarillion was enough, and he could keep the 'absurd' and beautiful business of the Sun and Moon hailing from Trees, for instance.


And if Tolkien could keep much of the 'old' mythology he could still include other ideas too. Perhaps he could keep The Awakening of the Quendi for example, an Elvish account in which the Sun is noted as existing before the Elves awoke -- then readers could wonder if an Elvish fairy tale for children (mingled with counting lore) contained the truth about the Sun!

Of course I don't think Tolkien meant 'wholly' Mannish (not that anyone said he did), but aside from living sources in Rivendell I think JRRT could have cultivated the Elves of Middle-earth more as a source; if the Elves of Aman should be more in the know, generally speaking.


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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Orwell on Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:55 am

That's myth and legend for you!

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tolkien and evolution

Post by leelee on Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:57 pm

I have studied our professor's letters until I am quite sure they are imprinted in my dna, and I believe, being a Messianic Jew(one who through careful study of all the Torah and further Holy Scriptures together with other histories is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth can trace his very existance through both geneolgies an fulfills every prophecy on Jesus, the Christ) a Catholic Jew who partakes of all that JRR did, I am quite sure he realized like I do, that if a thing , no matter what it is, lines up with scripture(like 'the earth hangs upon nothing" from ancient texts when the rest of the world thought it was flat)there is no incompatibility as long as it is understood the Creator alone was responsible for it, period. It is still a matter of the existance of all things wonderful in the universe being the handi work of the Creator,so there is not a problem.
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:04 pm

"that if a thing , no matter what it is, lines up with scripture(like 'the earth hangs upon nothing" from ancient texts when the rest of the world thought it was flat)there is no incompatibility"- leelee

What about all the stuff that doesn't line up with scripture? And is clearly wrong- like the earth having four corners?

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Orwell on Sun Jun 26, 2011 11:14 pm

Gradually I think I begin to get a fix on you, leelee. It's nice to meet someone different. Please don't think because of some of my previous posts that I have any dificulty with you expressing your ideas in Forumshire. They are very interesting and very quirky, but that's from my viewpoint, I'm sure you believe what you believe sincerely, however odd your ideas seem to me. Fortunately, all are free to express themselves here. Very Happy

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tolkien and evolution

Post by leelee on Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:58 am

How dear you are Orwell. I have not a clue about the most of you yet, but I like what I 'see'. And are we all not different and unique on this forum, practically every forum that exists? And we should all be able to be ourselves, regardless of what anyone thinks, for if not, what was all the fighting orcs and urikai and trolls and most of all Mordor and Orthanc and Saruman for?
I honor anyone who is true to his or her self and is not cruel in it. Better to live and die like the characters in our beloved Professor's tales fighting hard for what one believes is right and good than to sit back and go with the flow and just be 'cool' or the same when your heart is dying?
What say you dear Orwell?
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:03 am

As the forum motto says (or used to say, when it was still visible in the header): we are a place for free spirits, for better or worse (I think better). cheers
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tolkien and evolution

Post by leelee on Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:07 am

And I think you are right . Are you then the owner of this establishment and it says that Gandalf's beard is moderator. What precisely does that term mean, I mean here ? And where is he then, away from his post.?
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:13 am

I created the forum (using tools provided by Forumotion.com) so I have administrator powers over it. If you see the Admin account around, that's me, but I usually use this account for security purposes. You could say I own it, but I don't tend to think of it that way; I started off as just another member so I usually ask for advice and opinions before doing anything. Wink

A moderator here is similar to a Council Member on Planet Tolkien, they take care of the day-to-day running of the forum and its members. GB was one of the oldest moderators on the old forum so when we moved here it was understood by everyone that he would continue in that role. I also have moderator powers in this account and I work on the same day-to-day stuff as well as admin stuff.
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Orwell on Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:07 pm

Eldorion wrote:GB was one of the oldest moderators on the old forum so when we moved here it was understood by everyone that he would continue in that role.

GB is not only the the oldest moderator I've met, but he's the only talking beard I've met and, naturally, the wisest. Smile

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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by Eldorion on Fri Jul 29, 2011 4:20 am

The essay that jumped out at me from the list was "She and Tolkien, Revisited". I've never read any H. Rider Haggard, but a part of me as been curious to read She ever since a friend did and told me about all the references to it Tolkien slipped into LOTR. Smile
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Re: Tolkien and evolution?

Post by chris63 on Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:58 pm

Wasnt sure which thread to put this on.

http://sacnoths.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-on-horne.html
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