Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Good Week For Publication

So, wow. The Journal of Tolkien Research has just published my article, "Harken Not to Wild Beasts: Between Rage and Eloquence in Saruman and Thrasymachus." What astounds me is that I finished the piece only two weeks ago and already got back the peer reviews. Of course, no real reason WHY the review process has to take months, but it just usually does. Kudos to the anonymous reviewers, great praise upon them, for working so quickly. I might even more appreciative of their promptness than of their kind remarks; I barely had to do any revisions to the article. The process went so fast, in fact, that the publication barely feels real.

One of the great advantages of an online open-access journal, too, is instantaneous publication. As I'm learning with the several other articles I have in circulation, the publication process generally takes even longer than the review process.

Anyway, this has been a good week. I finished my review of Harry Potter essays, and the editor liked it. That should be appearing in the next issue of Mythlore sometime in October or November, I think.


  1. Hi Dennis,

    I want to stress that I have enjoyed your paper, which proved food for a lot of thought.

    In my Transactions for July, I raise a couple of minor points, that do not (at least in my understanding) affect your main points, but I also wished to share a few other reflexions that reading the paper gave rise to ...

    How does the Greek concept of thymos relate to the Germannic concept of mód, which is part of the basis for Tolkien's discussion of ofermód in relation to The Battle of Maldon (and his Homecoming ... afterplay)?

    Saruman's manipulative enlisting of the Dunlendings seems to me to be an almost perfect example of him manipulating the ressentiment of others. I wondered how this might connect with his later policy of own ressentiment in ‘The Scouring of the Shire’?

    ... there was something else, but I left my notes at home and can't remember it right now :)

    1. Hi Troels,

      I greatly appreciate your comments, and thank you for making them!

      I'll respond in detail they deserve a little later on today -- I want to check some notes and references, but all my books are at home atm.

  2. Right, at home with my notes ...

    In the paper, you write,
    “Nonetheless, the example of Sauron presents itself continuously before Saruman. Sauron has no rhetoric and, indeed, is never heard to speak in the text. He never needs to accommodate himself to the conventional morality. He can acquire all that he desires without dissembling or mouthing the platitudes praised by the many. In this regard, Sauron shows himself “the stronger.” Sauron actually possesses the most “justice” as defined by Thrasymachus.”

    Reading this, I wondered if Sauron's rhetoric as ‘Annatar’ in the Second Age might have provided Saruman with another model? Surely Sauron used rhetoric to ‘seduce’ the smiths of Eregion to be a part of creating the Rings of Power (with all the negative connotations of the ‘P-word’ in Tolkien's writings).

    The other note, I had forgotten, was about Boromir's death in relation to the discussion of humility on page 29.

    In the end Boromir seems to achieve some balance between thymos and humility by spending himself (and his thymos) in defence of the two young hobbits, who were so far below him (certainly as he would perceive it), and not even Gondorians. Gandalf's later words imply, at least as I read them, that it was this act specifically that redeemed Boromir before his death. And of course we have Faramir's speech about not loving the warrior for his glory etc. I wondered if there might be something interesting in the two brothers and their attempts to balance thymos and humility?

    1. Okay, I'm back.

      Again, thanks for the comments. I'll note first the Parma-Kenta ones, then I'll move on to the ones you've made here.

      1. the mention of Saruman in Chapter 2 -- you're absolutely right. I wanted to bang my head against the wall when I read this, because I specifically double-checked (or thought I did) for that. Doesn't affect my argument, but it's a stupid thing to do.

      2. Your remark about the "strong overstatement" of what appears in Tolkien's Letters caught me by surprise and, as such, made me immediately flip back to the relevant passage. Here's my take.

      I agree that Tolkien often uses "magic" (from a hobbit or lay perspective) to emphasize the natural causality of the Primary World. Calling Saruman's Voice "magical" in the vulgar sense is, we both seem to agree, completely wrong -- but then I'm afraid that I don't quite understand your objection. If you want to maintain that his voice in "magical" in the sense that NOT everyone can learn it, that's only true in the sense in that not everyone can become a world-class carpenter or a world-class athlete -- but that doesn't make carpentry or athletics "magical" in any meaningful sense. The carpenter and the athlete might have more talent at those goals, which makes them unique in that way, but the phrase you quoted from me on PK actually specifically references "talent," so I'm not sure what you're getting at.

      I could make an applicability argument as well. If Saruman's Voice is mundane, then that's a whole lot more applicable than if it's somehow "supernormal." Lots of politicians and con-men can be skillful, and they pose a real danger. But we not likely to encounter anything stronger in everyday discourse. Mass media even makes it more likely that'll we encounter that truly talented con-men in some fashion.

      Along the same lines, Saruman's ability to "corrupt the reasoning powers" is entirely mundane. It happens everyday. In fact, you could take that phrase in one of two ways. First, in the Christian sense that the Fall invariably corrupted the reasoning powers, making reason suspect (as opposed to faith). You certainly have that strand in Christian thought, but both Augustine and Aquinas thought reason a powerful tool. For someone of Tolkien's time (an age where the British public schooling system emphasized rationality), Tolkien would have considered that most people were rational most of the time, except in certain cases such as being confronted with a slick talker such as Saruman. If you try calling his power "magical," especially as you allow that it's not "magical" in the vulgar sense, I just don't see how that adds anything to my statement that anyone could learn Saruman's type of speech-craft. So I guess, overall, that I just don't quite get your objection here. We MAY be even talking about the same thing.

    2. Round 2. :)

      3. Well spotted with "the Greek concept of thymos relate to the Germannic concept of mód." You could add lofgeornost, "most eager for praise," which is the last line in Beowulf. This is actually another chapter in my diss. I'm haven't fully worked out all the details yet, but the short answer is: the two concepts are pretty close. The big difference is the background assumptions/implications of each concept. Thymos has been made the foundation point of a lot of Greek philosophizing, and the Anglo-Saxons -- while a highly literate people -- just didn't do philosophizing in the ways that the Greeks did. With mod, overmod, and lofgeornost, you tend to get a lot of peopling viewing these concepts from a Christian lens or perspective. Tolkien himself did, and it's only been in the last few decades that medievalists have begun questioning that lens.

      4. And yes -- TONS of interesting stuff about Boromir, Faramir, and humility/thymos. Tolkien, as a Christian, definitely placed his emphasis along certain lines, and this will be a case where a reader will disagree with writer whom he still admires very much. :)

    3. 5. The Dunlendings. Right, the Dunlendings had a legit grievance against the Riders, and it compelled them to a martial response. Working out an offense against oneself is a basic part of thymos, and that's how Saruman persuades them to join his side. But because they choose a martial response, the Dunlendings continued -- rather than transvalued -- the heroic values, even if their side ultimately lost. For Nietzsche, the transvaluation element is essential to ressentiment (which is a sort of thymos gone terribly wrong), and I think that separates events in the Shire from everything prior.

    4. Last point!

      6. Annatar/Sauron in the Second Age. This actually gets quite complex; there's a lot of factors here that could be given different weight depending on your viewpoint. In LOTR itself, Sauron certainly isn't a talkative sort, and I tend -- purely as a practical measure -- considering Second Age Sauron and Third Age Sauron almost as two different personalities. Second Age Sauron was highly persuasive, and some of texts in the legendarium (The Lost Road comes to mind immediately) talk about his persuasive abilities. You also got the character sketch of Sauron in Morgoth's Ring. But in the absence of any published-in-his-lifetime examples of Sauron as a rhetorical being, I tend to downplay that side of Sauron in favor of the Third Age Sauron.

      But I'm not entirely satisfied with that, and this question remains wide open for debate.

    5. Thanks a lot for these detailed answers!

      I do not think that any of this affects your argument. It's possible, I suppose, that couple of these points might have served to further illustrate your argument, but of course at the expense of length.

      I'll comment on a couple of specific points below.

    6. Re. 2.

      Regarding the statement in the letter: Just to be sure that we are looking at the same statement, I have searched my Kindle edition for mentions of Saruman, and the only passage where Tolkien speaks of Saruman's voice is in letter no. 210, his critique of the Zimmerman story-line, point 34, where Tolkien discusses Zimmerman's use of hypnotic, stating that “Saruman's voice was not hypnotic but persuasive.”

      If you have found another letter that is not in the published letters, then my disagreement may be void, but this passage does certainly not say anything about whether this persuasiveness is ‘normal’ (in the sense of being achievable by a human being by rhetoric and voice control) or magical (in the hobbit sense – i.e. not normal). Therefore, insofar as this passage goes, I will maintain that it is a strong overstatement to say that Tolkien's letter “states that there is nothing magical about Saruman’s Voice.”

      I do agree that Tolkien nowhere says that Saruman's voice is magic, and you would probably have a friend in Verlyn Flieger, judging by her essay ‘Fantasy and Reality: J.R.R. Tolkien's World and the Fairy-Story Essay’ (in Green Suns and Faërie reprinted from Mythlore 22), though she doesn't explicitly mention Saruman in that essay (and her treatment in other essays focuses on Saruman as an industrialist).

      The main point is that Tolkien ultimately leaves all options open, and my own reading suggests that whatever the nature of the power of Saruman's voice, it is not achievable by any human being.

      Tolkien uses the word spell seven times in the chapter ‘The Voice of Saruman’, every time to describe the effect of Saruman's voice, and I think you may be just a little too quick to insist that he only meant it in the Germanic sense of ‘narration’. While I certainly agree that one should not think ‘magic!’ every time Tolkien uses ’spell’, I would nonetheless argue that we need a consistent interpretation for all the times it is uses to describe the voice of Saruman, and I do not think that ‘narration’ can do that (not that magic is necessarily implied either – there is also the modern usage “An ability to control or influence people as though one had magical power over them” [emphasis added], definition 1.2 from Oxford Dictionaries on-line:

      Your analysis, as I understood it, does not accout for the fact that the persuasiveness lies not in the words themselves (the book is quite explicit about that), but in the quality of the voice itself, its sound. This power allows an immediate persuasiveness that is disconnected from the rhetoric, and the effects of which are described in some detail. My experience is that these effects are not achievable by any human being by the sound of their voice alone.

    7. Re. 6.

      I obviously agree that Sauron is hardly talkative during the War of the Ring (we hear that he has been among the peoples of the South and the East, but we do not know how he made them go over to him). Curiously one of the incidents we do know of is Saruman, who had “been persuaded from afar, and daunted when persuasion would not serve.” :)

      The Second Age situation is briefly summarised both in the main narrative of The Lord of the Rings (primarily in ‘The Shadow of the Past’ and ‘The Council of Elrond’) and also in the appendices (Appendix A I (i) tells of how he lied to Ar-Pharazôn, and Appendix B tells of how he endeavoured to seduce the Eldar in the annal for SA 1200).

      This is, of course, not much to go by.

  3. Ah, okay, I see what you mean now: "I will maintain that it is a strong overstatement to say that Tolkien's letter “states that there is nothing magical about Saruman’s Voice.”"

    Right, based on that passage, I can what you mean by that. Tolkien doesn't CLEARLY state that -- but I thought the denial of hypnotism so strongly implied that that it amounted the same thing. Now that you point it out, though, I can see where someone disagrees. This may just be a legitimate area of disagreement. I think Saruman becomes a more thematically important character (in terms of applicability) if his talents ARE acheivable by any human, but I can also see the attraction in your view.

    Re. your point about "the persuasiveness lies not in the words themselves (the book is quite explicit about that), but in the quality of the voice itself, its sound."

    When I use the term "rhetoric," that actually includes that aspect of it. Aristotle developed 5 canons of rhetoric, which are:

    1. Invention
    2. Arrangement
    3. Style
    4. Memory
    5. Delivery

    The sound of Saruman's Voice actually falls under the 5th canon, "delivery." The passage I quoted from Milton shows Belial as standing up "more graceful and humane," which also falls under delivery (i.e., the act is entirely non-verbal, but such posture adds an element of persuasion to one's eventual arguments).