I have bought entirely too many new books since summer (what with the Return of the Ring and an early birthday present to myself . . .) and so I have not yet come to Tolkien Studies IXin general. However, following this I went and read Voronwë's article— just to be able to join the conversation
Was this a proper review, I would spend most of my space on what the article is— what ground it covers and what it has to say about this, but given that this is not a proper review and Voronwë is around to give a better summary than I might, I will largely refrain from that (Saranna has also already given an excellent summary of the article), and instead I will focus on those other aspects of reviewing — what the article is not, what it could have been, etc.
I very much like the introduction with it's combination of Tolkien's own ideas about Secondary Belief (requiring ‘the inner consistency of reality’) in ‘On Fairy-stories’ and Owen Barfield's ideas of ‘legal fiction’ — I could wish that there had been more space to elaborate on the latter as the explication is necessarily very short (getting, at least for me, itself ‘tenuous, elusive, and difficult of expression’ (certainly not an uncommon situation for me when trying to understand Barfield ).
The discussion of the legalities in The Hobbitis quite thorough — quite possibly because these seem more firmly rooted in the legal system of the real world, and less perfectly incorporated in the sub-creation, which allows that they are also more easily (and expansively) analysable on Primary World legal terms. I think Voronwë makes his point quite well here (which Saranna has already quoted).
The discussion of The Lord of the Ringsis, as Saranna notes, much shorter, but still a couple of pages. This seems to me both too long and too short. It is, and here I think Voronwë would agree with me, far from being a thorough and satisfying discussion of law in The Lord of the Rings, but it is, in my view, still too long to serve merely as a stepping-stone between the discussions of legal aspects of The Hobbitand the legal aspects of Tolkien's Silmarillion legendarium. Here it would, I think, have been better to restrict the discussion to the two or three points that are referred to later — or perhaps even to forgo coherent discussion of The Lord of the Rings and merely take up such points as become relevant while dealing with the larger legendarium as they do become relevant.
If we should one day be so lucky that Voronwë will expand on the analysis of law in The Lord of the Rings, one thing that I would very much like to see (and please enlighten me if such an analysis is already extant) is a discussion of the way that our three Ring-takers, Isildur, Sméagol, and Bilbo, all resort to a spurious legal claim to support their claim to the Master Ring: the claim of weregild (which, at least in the ancient Danish regional laws, didn't work as Isildur seems to apply it), the claim of a birthday present, and the claim of a prize (my impression is that, even in the original version, Bilbo's claim to the Ring as the prize of the riddle-contest was voided by his acceptance of Gollum's service as a substitute).
It is, however, in the discussion of law in the elder days that the article finds its true stride. Following the discussion requires some knowledge of the evolution of Tolkien's legendarium from the earliest effort (in The Book of Lost Tales) to the late writings in what Christopher Tolkien speaks of as the second phase of the later Quenta Silmarillion (the ‘LQ2’ texts to which ‘Laws and Customs among the Eldar’ belongs), but I think it is entirely justified to presuppose a familiarity with these works in a journal such as Tolkien Studies. The evolution of incidents such as the capture and imprisonment of Morgoth, the trial and exile of Fëanor, and the inquiry into the death of Thingol's counsellor (following a confrontation with Túrin) are all touched upon, and here, too, the discussion could probably benefit from a bit of expansion — I agree with Voronwë that “[i]t is instructive to look at the development of these stories over the course of the writing of the legendarium,” and I would like to take a more thorough look at this development
The late text, ‘Laws and Customs among the Eldar,’ justifiably receives much attention, as Voronwë says it is ‘perhaps the most meaningful discussion of a “legal fiction” in the Elder Days,’ and Tolkien uses the statute of Finwë and Míriel to launch into a wide-ranging discussion of many aspects of Elvish society, giving the text a degree of profundity that recalls Christopher Tolkien's comments in the foreword to The Silmarillion:
The ‘Laws and Customs among the Eldar’ is an example of this, and Voronwë's point about the difference between Justice and Healing is well made, though I would argue that there is a measure of healing also in one of the examples he discusses from The Lord of the Rings, particularly the case of Aragorn's doom over Beregond, and this may point at the pivotal role that Men is promised in the fulfilment (and healing) of the world.
Moreover the old legends ('old' now not only in their derivation from the remote First Age, but also in terms of my father's life) became the vehicle and depository of his profoundest reflections. In his later writing mythology and poetry sank down behind his theological and philosophical preoccupations: from which arose incompatibilities of tone.
Some of this may seem overly critical, but that is far from the case (Bilbo's comments in The Hobbitregarding good days being quickly told apply here as well ). Say rather that Voronwë's article has made me wish for more, and made me wish to pursue in earnest some of the threads that he merely shows us. It is, in my opinion, characteristic of a good Tolkien article that it makes me see Tolkien's work from a new angle and to wish to explore it some further from that angle, and Voronwë's article does just that. Thank you!
Edited by: Troelsfo
Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale