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Elves and sunscreen


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#1 NaurwenT

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Posted 18 February 2006 - 03:07 PM

Just a silly thought regarding Elves' pale skin after having read the thread http://www.wildfireg...=0
I do too imagine the Elves as pale-skinned because Tolkien repeatedly says so - it's just that I sometimes wonder how pale they are... Given their love for nature and the long hours they spend outdoors, would Elves broze (meaning slightly golden skin, not the result of a 3-week holidays in Fidji ;) )?

Genetically speaking, we know they are very, very close to the Children of Men, otherwise the offspring from the union of both races would not be possible. So, we can assume we would find melanin in their skin, hair, retina, brain, etc..being the deteminant of their skin, hair & eye colour (otherwise, the lack of this polymer would result in albino Elves)
This presence of hypothetical melanocytes in their bodies - once they are exposed to sunlight - would cause Elves to actually broze, increasing the release of melanin pigment into their skin cells to act as a natural solar screen - or else their skins would burn.
Elves' aging is extremely slow, they take longer to grow up, reach maturity, their pregnacies take a whole year... and still, in spite of the speed, their bodies undergo the same processes than their Mortal counterparts - couldn't we, then, expect their skins to broze as well, even if it takes longer?
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#2 Beren IV

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 04:10 AM

I can't imagine that the pigment in Elven skin would not be melanin, melanin being the pigment used by all mammals. I don't envision Elves as being preferring to be fair-skinned, though, the way European nobility was... since so many Elven Lords wander, I would in fact think that being more seasoned to the environment would be preferable!

I imagine that Elves have a range of skin tones, although that range is narrower than that of Humans, but even within a single so-called ethnic group of Humans there can actually be quite a lot of variation. Elves also are native to a fairly northern climate, so we would expect them to be fair-skinned. I would wonder about the Elves living in Tirion, since Tirion I see as being equatorial (but cool-cold due to its elevation). Still, I see a range in skin-tones in Elves, just as I envision Dwarves as being somewhat swarthy.

As for sunburn, I imagine that the Elves have ways of getting around it. Maybe their clothes are more effective at withstanding sunlight than our own, just as their cloaks are warmer and more able to hide in or their weapons are more graceful and better at piercing. Or maybe the Elves even have skills by which they can heal sunburn in ways that we can't. Indeed, their very immortality might play a role here: what sunburn is is mutations of cells that either kill them or make them ineffective. In order to be immortal, Elves would need some mechanism of continual cell growth such that we lack - cells lost to ultraviolet light would be replaced with new cells! Certainly, there are immortal animals that can continue producing cells indefinitely. Most of these animals also grow bigger as long as they live, but they don't have to.
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#3 NaurwenT

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 02:08 PM

Indeed, their very immortality might play a role here: what sunburn is is mutations of cells that either kill them or make them ineffective. In order to be immortal, Elves would need some mechanism of continual cell growth such that we lack...


The question being Elves are not immortal. Their existence is bound to that of Arda, which means they do indeed age, at a very, very, very... slow pace, yes, but they age nontheless.
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#4 Beren IV

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 04:49 PM

You would only expect that, though. If Elven cells are capable of dividing indefinitely, they will eventually accrue mutations. Also, their aging may be due to some other, systemic, effect, rather than simply their loss of cells. And all of this assumes no change in the very fabric of Arda - that, I think, is the primary reason why Elves age: the laws of physics aren't constant.

Crocodiles are immortal. That doesn't mean that they live forever.
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#5 NaurwenT

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 05:03 PM

Immortal:
1.not subject to death
2.a person (such as an author) of enduring fame;
3.any supernatural being worshipped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force.


Thats what I understand for "immortal" :P
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#6 Beren IV

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 05:41 PM

That looks like a dictionary definition. I am using a biological definition of immortality, namely, that something can live indefinitely without senescence, but of course can still die if killed by something, or runs out of resources, etc.
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#7 Mithrandil

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 05:51 PM

Don't forget that Anar was something the elves regarded as being reserved for men, and therefore they are more likely to wander under the sight of Isil...
Not everybody bronzes as fast as others, and because they were described by Tolkien (who was an Englishman, don't forget), I consider them being rather pale. Say, a swedisch person. (But then again he was born in South Africa :P :S )

Genetically speaking, we know they are very, very close to the Children of Men, otherwise the offspring from the union of both races would not be possible. So, we can assume we would find melanin in their skin, hair, retina, brain, etc..being the deteminant of their skin, hair & eye colour (otherwise, the lack of this polymer would result in albino Elves)

Not necessarely. Elves CAN "breed" with humans, but that doesn't make them having the same system of coloring. If you take two dogs of a different breed(say, a golden retriever and a labrador), they can still have puppiesvery easily, but they DO NOT have the same hairlenght, so it is assumable that Elves don't have to have quite the same system of tanning that humans have.
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#8 NaurwenT

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Posted 20 February 2006 - 06:30 PM

That looks like a dictionary definition. I am using a biological definition of immortality, namely, that something can live indefinitely without senescence, but of course can still die if killed by something, or runs out of resources, etc.

I understand senescence as growing older or showing the signs of it, right. We know the Elves do show signs of aging, even if these signs are really subtle and hard to tell by Mortals: we know their eyes show, in some way, their age. We also have the beards, even if they only appear during the third cycle of their lives, it is a sign of old age among the Elves. I would say this is a sign of senescence, besides of knowing that Elves cannot live indefinitely :P

Don't forget that Anar was something the elves regarded as being reserved for men, and therefore they are more likely to wander under the sight of Isil...

Still, they are not nocturnal creatures.

Not necessarely. Elves CAN "breed" with humans, but that doesn't make them having the same system of coloring. If you take two dogs of a different breed(say, a golden retriever and a labrador), they can still have puppiesvery easily, but they DO NOT have the same hairlenght, so it is assumable that Elves don't have to have quite the same system of tanning that humans have.

I dont think you can compare the existence of melanin to the lenght of hair. One is a polymer present in , afaik, all mammals, regardless of species. The other is a characteristic inherent to an specific race. Perhaps it could be compared to having warm blood or being vertebrated, while the other could be having dark hair or green eyes.
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#9 Yiuel

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Posted 21 February 2006 - 02:18 AM

As the question of immortality, my being a conworlder, has dealed with some of those problems, to some extent, and I may compare.

I have that species (the Taasaweans, but their name isn't important) which do not live any senesence in the way we do. Their cells can reproduce indefinitely, as long as they have some other being in their body, which I could call the reparator. Its task is to make sure that any copy is identical to the original written on him. It usually takes one hundred years to make him disappear, if not constantly nurtured with some chemical product (it is found in great quantities in the sea). So, they essentially stay young for, usually, two hundred years. (Some are lucky enough to live a few more years, some very lucky will not die...) But then, they die of an horrible death (cancer, growing on all cells within a few minutes, very painful)

So, they may repair themselves in the same way, or something close. As for their tanning, well, there are other ways to protect yourself, melanin isn't everything that can protect from sunburn, I believe. That all mammals may produce melanin does not necessarly means Elves are... mammals, even if they are mammal-like. They could be genetically close, because of convergence in their genetic code, but they can still have a few differences, superficial. Now, it is to wander what, and how it would express itself.
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#10 NaurwenT

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Posted 21 February 2006 - 02:47 AM

As for their tanning, well, there are other ways to protect yourself, melanin isn't everything that can protect from sunburn, I believe. That all mammals may produce melanin does not necessarly means Elves are... mammals, even if they are mammal-like. They could be genetically close, because of convergence in their genetic code, but they can still have a few differences, superficial. Now, it is to wander what, and how it would express itself.


I havent said melanin is the only thing to protect you from the sun, but if this pygment were to be found in Elves' bodies, the question remains what its function would be.
However, I am pretty sure Tolkien intended his Elves to be mammals. Actually, I believe (of course Im not an expert), being this otherwise, there would be no offspring resulting from their unions with the Children of Men. AFAIK, you cannot cross mammals and non-mammals :P
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#11 Beren IV

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Posted 21 February 2006 - 09:12 PM

I think I can say fairly confidently that Elves are something in the Homo genus, given that they can interbreed with Humans at all. This means that they must be mammals. Now, it is of course possible for a mammal to develop some new evolutionary novelty that would result in the complete loss of melanin. Elves could be albinos, who have as well developed some pigment that allows them to have tone and color even if they have no melinin.

Regarding immortality, like I say, there is a way to have the cells be immortal. This does not mean that the body must be. Moreover, it is clear to me that the laws of physics on Arda change. The reason for this is probably the Taint of Morgoth. True immortality might have been possible once, but it isn't anymore.
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#12 Yiuel

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 06:12 AM

I don't think that being of completely different lines (or regna) for that matter would completely barren any possible interbreeding. What you need is a convergent evolution, where genes will be able to communicate their differences. Indeed, it would be especially unlikely, but then again, in Arda, Eru's will is around to arrange things :P
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#13 Aranthalion

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:37 PM

Even though Anu opened the discussion with a slightly humorous tone (great topic, btw nice idea! :S), I feel compelled to give somewhat more serious thought to the matter.. That doesn't mean we should be frowning and not making fun of aspects in Tolkien's work, of course.. I do that all the time. Anyway

*clears throat, assumes a "lecturing professor" tone* :P

Before we start throwing around any wild guesses of the biological nature of the Elves, we should consider what the good professor wrote about it himself, right? According to Tolkien, the Elves were "a race of beings closely akin to Men, so closely indeed that they must be regarded as physically (or biologically) simply branches of the same race." My personal interpretation of the matter is that the Elves were physically identical to Men and the main difference between them lay in that their far had far more control over their hrar, as well as over all things around them.

Tolkien writes "the far were not spirits of a wholly different kind to the Ainur." They came from Ilvatar and were indestructible, while the hrar were made of the matter of Arda and could be destroyed a thing that was not supposed to happen, but caused by the Marring of Arda by Melkor. The Ainur could build hrar by the power of their far and "don them like raiments" but they were not bound by them (except when they became corrupted and sought to physically dominate Arda like Melkor, the Balrogs.. and Sauron, although he long retained his power of altering shape). Unlike the Ainur, the Mirranvi (ie. incarnates, all Children of Ilvatar) could not properly exist in Arda without the union of the fa and a physical hra. But Tolkien wrote during his many (often contradictory) ponderings on Elven resurrection, that the fa would retain in itself a perfect image of the hra so that it could be rebuilt and the fa rehoused by the help and consent of the Valar if they should be sundered. I believe this connection between the fa and the hra is the key to all the attributes we consider "Elven"

My conclusion is that at birth the Elven body is like that of a human's, a genetic product of their parents' bodies. Then, during the slow childhood of around 50 years, the fa housed in it would shape it to suit its needs.. This would result in them becoming taller and fairer etc.. like ideal images of their soul, and this would be the image of the hra stored in the fa. It would also go a long way in explaining the much-criticised fact that all good people were always beautiful and all evil things ugly in Tolkien's writings..

Tolkien describes that the Elves were more resistant to injury, pain, heat, cold.. basically any external threat that would damage them. Aging did not weaken their bodies or leave much visible signs, they did not suffer from diseases and they recovered very rapidly from injuries of the body and did not scar, etc. So I believe that Elven "immortality" was not a state of being physically unchanged and resistant to time.. but rather the opposite: Their bodies were constantly regenerated and renewed by the power of their far and as long as the image built into the fa remained unchanged, so the would the hra appear to be. That's why they would not tan very fast, either.. tanning and sunburns are, after all, external effects imposed on their hrar, and if it didn't fit their "self-image", I suppose the far would regenerate their original status. There you go, Elven indigenous sunscreen! :P

The stronger relationship between the fa and hra makes it clear why the Elves were much more affected by matters of the spirit. They would not be damaged by physical harm or sickness, but "hurts of the soul" would affect their bodies and even cause the hra to perish altogether, like in the case of Mriel for instance.

This is an often overlooked topic but I find it really interesting especially because Tolkien himself was so concerned about these matters and the philosophical/theological aspects of his mythology in his late writings. Some of the material is unclear and contradictory, and most of this is just what I've deduced from Tolkien's writings myself and not by all means the absolute truth in the matter.. but this is how I believe he meant it. For the most part it's based on one of my favourite texts, the Athrabeth, and the commentary and writings connected with it.
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#14 Beren IV

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Posted 24 February 2006 - 07:02 PM

I think that Tolkien, in his later years, would have agreed with you, but I don't think this is the case in some of his earlier conceptions. I wonder how consistent it is with LotR.

I have come to a categorical dislike of the purely spiritual explanation of physical phenomena in Middle-Earth except where the link between the two is clear. In The Lord of the Rings, what we see of it, the characters that we meet all seem to be principally bodily creatures, complete with physiologies that dictate their behavioral and mental attributes, including their retaining consciousness or not. The Ring and its effects I suppose are the exception to this, but note that the Ring does do things to the body as well as to the mind, and these things I think are closely related. But consider the passage of the Dead Marshes - here we do have influence of some kind of spiritual malevolence of people who lived in the past, and there is no reason to believe in this chapter than Men, Elves, or Orcs, are anything but alike and equal in death.

Either way, I must imagine that there is something genetic that separates Elves from Humans (Edain and their relatives being perhaps exceptions).
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#15 Aranthalion

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 07:00 PM

This is definitely turning into an interesting discussion.. who would have thought when it started from sunscreen. :P

It's true that Tolkien's conceptions on this subject did evolve a great deal, but I really don't see the inconsistency you are worried about. I'm not saying there wouldn't be any difference between Elves and Men.. nor am I saying they weren't "bodily creatures" being "branches of the same race" does not mean there wouldn't be genetic differences.. I'm sure there were some. And certainly, as incarnate Children of Ilvatar the Elves needed a physical body to properly interact with the world around them.. at least during the first cycles of their existence (of the later fate of the Elves in Middle-earth, the fading, Tolkien wrote that the power of the fa slowly "burned away" the hra and they became invisible, incorporate spirits of nature).

Basically, I don't see there being a conflict with the spiritual and physical side of their beings.. they were one and the same; two sides of the same being. The hra was indeed the primary means by which the fa interacted with the world, but through it the fa was also capable of enhancing the physical actions that it performed. I've always imagined that virtually anything the Elves did could not be accomplished by hands and technology alone.. like if I think of Elven masonry, I believe they built buildings less with mortar and more by singing the stones together, for example. That's the nature of Elven "magic" too.. it's present in everything they do, they breath it and that's why their creations far surpass anything Men are capable of.

So to me the fact that their fa is the source of some capabilities of their hra is only natural and I think this is the way Tolkien thought of it also in LotR. The power of the fa is manifest in such quotes as: "To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil." (of Glorfindel)

Tolkien wrote in many places that originally there were not much difference between Elves of old and the fathers of Men.. they were both very "physical" so to speak. As ages past, the body became less and less important for the Elves and the spiritual side became more important. Also, we must not forget the Fall of Men: they fell under the dominion of Melkor and were punished by Eru a fate that none escaped, although the repentant Edain were somewhat alleviated. So the Men diminished, especially on the spiritual side, and thus the perceivable differences between the High Elves and the common Men in the Third Age were undoubtedly greater than in the First Age. This is obviously the case with the remaining Exiles especially, as e.g. the Elves of Mirkwood were younger, much more physically-minded, and they had never been to Valinor, spoken with the Valar, nor seen the light of the Trees..

Hhmm, the Dead Marshes, you say..? I think it's a different matter entirely. Personally, I'm absolutely sure that the wraiths there, just like the barrow-wights, were not spirits of the actual Men and Elves who fell there, but some other evil spirits that were drawn there by the power of Sauron. We know that the fate of Men is different from that of the Elves, and that conception has remained so from early on.. so there is no way that the spirits of fallen Men could avoid departing to their Halls of Waiting in Mandos to await the End of Arda they had no say in the matter. Only very specific conditions could bind a human spirit to a place, and those were often partially self-imposed (like in the case of the Oathbreakers, for instance).

The Elven far were not forced to go to Mandos, so they could linger in Middle-earth if they wished.. although they could do very little to affect their surroundings without a physical hra. I also find it quite impossible to believe they would turn to evil deeds, even if they would somehow acquire that power. On the other hand, the Orcs.. Now it's told that they were originally Elves (I won't start analysing the spiritual nature and physiology of Orcs here..) and thus they certainly had far. It was not known to the Elves (and thus not recorded by Tolkien..) what became of the Orcs after they died, but I'm quite sure they would not go to Mandos, even were they allowed to do so. So they would linger in Middle-earth as powerless malevolent spirits.. And if such spirits could draw strength from Sauron's evil will, they could very well be among the ones haunting the Marshes.. But nothing can be said for certain.
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#16 Beren IV

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 05:23 PM

I actually have a very different vision of what Elven "magic" consists of. Recall that the entirety of Arda is the Music of the Ainur given life by Ilvitar. I tend to see this Music as metaphorical and referring to all Art, of which Architecture (the example you bring up) is certainly one form of. Thus, Art, true Art, has powers, because it invokes the Music, and thus has the power to alter reality just as the Music created it. If you will, the Music of the Ainur is the scripting language that makes Arda, and Ilvitar wrote the compiler. :P

I will dispute, however, the spiritual state of Men. Later in his life, Tolkien decided to make his legendarium as close as possible to Catholic doctrine, complete with a Fall of Man, presumably with the entire Garden of Eden sequence to be found in Genesis. This was, as I point out, a late-life decision. The first story involving an Adan, the first Tale of Trin (remember that Beren is an Elf in his first incarnation), doesn't have very much of this background. At this point, of course, Tolkien was still working on the assumption of a self-written mythology for the British Isles - the idea that he later denounced as "absurd". It is unfortunate that Tolkien's growing religious devotion and (more importantly) his desire to include this devotion within his stories had a detrimental effect on his stories. There is less at stake - and actions of the characters are less meaningful - if all of Tolkien's characters are immortal, which, if we take some of Tolkien's later essays, they are (Elves immortal in Arda, Men have to leave Arda but are still indestructible).

There are several ways to handle this. Coming back to the Dead Marshes again, we know that there are many spirits that inhabit Arda. While we know that Elves and Men both possess far and hrar, and that although the fate of the far of the two kindreds are alike and death and yet the fates of the hrar are different, I think it is reasonable to postulate that there are more different kinds of spirits that these creatures possess. It is obvious in The Lord of the Rings that many of the spirits of the dead things possess memories of the lives of those they are associated with: Merry is imparted with memories by the Barrow-wight, the ghosts in the Dead Marshes at least know what they were in life, and the Army of the Dead that Isildur cursed certainly remembers that curse! Recall, also, that it is only those Elves who have been in the Sacred Realm (which Glorfindel has) who exist simultaneously in both the shadow realm and the physical realm, so that's not really his fa either, if all Elves have far. Indeed, there is some sense in which Lthien is still around, and her name seems to retain some of her power, despite the fact that Gil-Galad seems to be just dead!
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#17 Aranthalion

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 08:05 PM

There are many good points brought up in this thread and I apologize to BerenIV that it has taken me a while to come up with a proper reply.. I've been too busy with my real life work. But this discussion is way too interesting for me to abandon it quite yet, so here goes again..

I actually have a very different vision of what Elven "magic" consists of. Recall that the entirety of Arda is the Music of the Ainur given life by Ilvitar. I tend to see this Music as metaphorical and referring to all Art, of which Architecture (the example you bring up) is certainly one form of. Thus, Art, true Art, has powers, because it invokes the Music, and thus has the power to alter reality just as the Music created it. If you will, the Music of the Ainur is the scripting language that makes Arda, and Ilvitar wrote the compiler.


We've had a somewhat related discussion on the staff forums about the nature of Elven "magic" and I will not go into details, but my view is that the fa was the source of it and it affected their every action and was as natural to them as breathing. Their actions and creations appeared physical, and indeed were physical, but I feel they were also enhanced by their fa.. so it looks just the same. And for game purposes it doesn't make any difference what the source behind their strength or properties of their creations is the question is purely philosophical. And just a personal POV.


In a letter he wrote to Milton Waldman in 1951, Tolkien defined the nature of Elven magic (as opposed to the evil magic of the Enemy, which is more of an allegory of 'Machine' or technology): "Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of their human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation."

As a related note I'll post here a link I got yesterday from a friend who has written a very throughout article on the subject: http://www.councilof...rticle&sid=3552

I agree with you that music is a key element in Tolkien's depiction of Art and Elven "magic." But the Music of the Ainur is not all that makes Arda what it is.. it was merely "the grand rehearsal" and the Vision of the perfect Arda that it produced more like a "model example" or "construction guide" than the finished thing. Eru did not create the world directly; rather he gave the Ainur the vision and the power to do so.. and he sent the Flame Imperishable to give life to what they created. So the Valar were the ones who shaped the world with their demiurgic labour.. while Melkor marred their creation and caused it to become something different than the perfect vision of Arda had been: Arda Marred.

I see it like this: The work of the Valar is what created the structure of Arda, but the Elves were also given the power to realise the Vision. They were made as part of Arda, to help the Valar in their labour and make it more complete. They too were bound by the Music, but their power came from Eru like that of the Valar.. and they were free to create according to their own vision and add things and themes Eru had not yet revealed even to the Valar. They were Eru's response to the discords that Melkor wrought. Melkor was not deterred, however.. and as his interference of the Music already portended the Marring that he later came to cause, Ilvatar introduced his final theme: Men.

Men, I think, were not bound by the Vision or the Music and thus their actions could carry much greater consequences and even heal the hurts caused by Melkor. In a way, they had greater power over Arda than even the Valar, because they could apply the power they received from Eru directly and shall we say, erraticly. But for this reason they were given less power individually and their stay in Arda was limited. They were not so "attuned" to Arda or the Music as the Elves because they were from "outside" of it. But they were there as a last resource to be used to not undo what Melkor had done, but to transform the world into something greater in the process: Arda Healed. The way this concept is developed further in the Athrabeth is very interesting, IMO. In any case, after the Fall of Men much of their power was taken away.. But after the great cataclysms, the making of the round world, the removal of Undying lands and the parting of the Elves, the Men HAVE indeed made the world into something entirely different! :P

I will dispute, however, the spiritual state of Men. Later in his life, Tolkien decided to make his legendarium as close as possible to Catholic doctrine, complete with a Fall of Man, presumably with the entire Garden of Eden sequence to be found in Genesis. This was, as I point out, a late-life decision. The first story involving an Adan, the first Tale of Trin (remember that Beren is an Elf in his first incarnation), doesn't have very much of this background. At this point, of course, Tolkien was still working on the assumption of a self-written mythology for the British Isles - the idea that he later denounced as "absurd". It is unfortunate that Tolkien's growing religious devotion and (more importantly) his desire to include this devotion within his stories had a detrimental effect on his stories.



Hmm.. I don't really see this the way you do.. I would not call his later writings "detrimental" even if some of those include ideas that are still quite rough and do contrast some elements of his earlier work but I'd say more often in the historical rather than philosophical sense. Still, I'd rather say his writings "evolved" since who is the one to decide how the story should be if not the author himself? It's not like whatever he wrote first on a subject was the "right version" and anything he wrote later has no meaning.. I'd say it's more or less the other way around, wouldn't you agree..? :P

In any case, what Tolkien was writing was a myth.. and myths that include a "Genesis" story definitely need to have such conceptions as "soul" and "afterlife" explained in my opinion. Every legend has them in one way or another. Basically I like the way Tolkien's later writings tie his legends to some elements of existing myths.. without going as far as to start going into them or borrowing them directly.

The Fall of Men might be something you may find in the Bible, but the conception in Tolkien's writing is definitely older than any later explicitly religious motivations you seem to be referring to. The letter I mentioned earlier was written before LotR was finished.. and there Tolkien basically explains the whole cosmogony and the different nature of Elves and Men very much like it was published in the Silmarillion and his later writings. He also states that "there cannot be any 'story' without a fall all stories are ultimately about the fall." And indeed, it is a recurring theme throughout the Silmarillion, present in each of it's parts even that first tale of Trin. If you look at the whole, you'll see that the first Fall was that of Melkor and that in a way every subsequent fall echoes that with the same principle: pride aspiration to power fall. What the Silmarillion is all about is the Fall of the Noldor. The Fall of Men is mentioned by Tolkien in the same letter, but he didn't explicitly write about it until the Athrabeth. Still, I'd argue that the conception existed pretty much from the beginning stages of the mythology instead of being a "late-life decision."

It's true that the conceptions of "soul" and "afterlife" are most likely ideas that arose from the author being Catholic. But I would not hold it against him it's his world and his creation, he can make it any way he wishes. The reality of Arda is what Tolkien made of it. I would accept his ideas because of this alone, even though I don't believe in souls, afterlife or creation myself. This just makes the world Tolkien created seem special to me, it being different from the one we live in.

So yes, Beren was an elf in a story Tolkien wrote in 1917 and "Aragorn" was a hobbit in the first draft of LotR.. ;) IMHO it has nothing to with the conception of afterlife in the finished LotR. You know that the story of Beren and Lthien already existed close to the form it was published in the Silmarillion by the time Tolkien finished LotR.. The way Aragorn tells it, and the way the story of Aragorn and Arwen is written, leaves no doubt about that.. or the concept of afterlife.

There is less at stake - and actions of the characters are less meaningful - if all of Tolkien's characters are immortal, which, if we take some of Tolkien's later essays, they are (Elves immortal in Arda, Men have to leave Arda but are still indestructible).



I'm afraid I can't say I agree with this one either. I don't think there ever was an intention to make the death of Men something different than it is in our world and yes, for Tolkien as a Catholic, it definitely involved an afterlife of sorts. He may not have written it down in his first stories, but there is nothing to indicate he "changed his mind about the spiritual state of Men" at any point. I'm sorry, but just I don't see how this makes the stories or the characters' actions "less meaningful."

There are several ways to handle this. Coming back to the Dead Marshes again, we know that there are many spirits that inhabit Arda. While we know that Elves and Men both possess far and hrar, and that although the fate of the far of the two kindreds are alike and death and yet the fates of the hrar are different, I think it is reasonable to postulate that there are more different kinds of spirits that these creatures possess. It is obvious in The Lord of the Rings that many of the spirits of the dead things possess memories of the lives of those they are associated with: Merry is imparted with memories by the Barrow-wight, the ghosts in the Dead Marshes at least know what they were in life, and the Army of the Dead that Isildur cursed certainly remembers that curse! Recall, also, that it is only those Elves who have been in the Sacred Realm (which Glorfindel has) who exist simultaneously in both the shadow realm and the physical realm, so that's not really his fa either, if all Elves have far.



:P Well. I really don't see why you keep seeing so much importance in the Dead Marshes episode.. especially as be it this way or that, it has no effect whatsoever in the game. But like I stated before, it's interesting just to discuss Tolkien's work from a purely philosophical standpoint. Obviously, as we can't ask the man himself, we all have just our own interpretation and POV. Now I agree with you (*gasp* :D) that there are many different kinds of spirits in Arda.. but I guess the rest is where we can agree to disagree. :P

I don't see the LotR really contrasting Tolkien's later (or earlier) conceptions of afterlife. I still don't agree with the spirits of the Dead Marshes being spirits of Elves or Men. Among the spirits haunting the Marshes there might be spirits of fallen Orcs, but Men no. Also, we know that the Barrow-wights were sent to Barrow-downs by the Witch-king and they were NOT the spirits of those kings whose tombs they inhabited. As for Glorfindel, I admit my quoted example was a bad one, it was just the first one that came to my mind when thinking about LotR in a haste.. but I don't agree with your point there either.. :P I believe all far existed in the spirit world to an extent, but Glorfindel's was just eminent because of his power which was greatly increased not only by him seeing the light of the Trees and the time he spent in the Blessed Realm, but also by his death and resurrection ( granted, the story of which did not exist at the time of writing..;)).

Indeed, there is some sense in which Lthien is still around, and her name seems to retain some of her power, despite the fact that Gil-Galad seems to be just dead!



Strange, I don't know where you got this impression from.. I see it differently, since Lthien in fact was the one who was truly gone and would never return among the Elves, whereas Gil-galad might yet do so (although it is not clear how soon he would be allowed to do so, if indeed he ever wished that in the first place). But you know that of course and I understand that you did not mean it that literally. :S To answer your rhetoric question, I'd say that Lthien lives in the memories of the Elves. Like we are told in the Athrabeth (granted, a later text), "in memory is [the Elves'] great talent" their memories won't fade but stay almost as clear as the visions before their waking eyes. Or "for [the Elves] memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream," like Gimli said in LotR. Gil-galad, on the other hand, would never return to Middle-earth, so he was dead as far those who remained there were concerned.. And with all due respect to the last High King of the oldor, I would guess that Lthien was more often remembered and much more dearly missed! :D

I'd like to write more.. but I'm running out of time again and I doubt anyone will bother to read all this anyway.. :P But.. to sum it up: I'm enjoying this exchange of thoughts, Beren, even if it might seem that I disagree with you a lot. It's interesting to see how other people interpret Tolkien's work and hear their explanations for it, especially if it differs from one's own point of view. There is no "right explanation" for anything and neither one of us is "wrong." Heck, the professor contradicts himself already often enough to have a fight with himself! :D ..And I still find it utterly amusing that this discussion started under a topic named "Elves and sunscreen!" :P
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.antti [aka Aranthalion]

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#18 Beren IV

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Posted 15 March 2006 - 02:02 AM

I note that the interpretation that I have of Ainulindal is extremely different at a fundamental level than yours. From what I understand, the Music creates all of the elements of the (admittedly first) conception Arda, all of them, including Elves and Men. But the Valar do not understand how it works in its entirety; they only understand those portions of the Music that pertain to them. This is why the Valar all seem to have elemental or other affinities, Varda with light, Manw with air, Ulmo with water, Aul with fire, Yavanna with earth, Melkor with darkness, and others that are less obviously elemental. Contained within the Music is the power that makes Elves and Men, something which none of the Valar understand, which is why they seem able to act beyond the Valar. I agree with you that Men in particular are singled out as having an unspecified destiny, that they can control fate.

As for Arda Marred and Arda Healed, I see Arda as an object in four, even five, dimensions, which is, I think, how Ilvitar Himself would "see" it. We know in Ainulindal that Ilvitar's halls are "timeless". We may presume that time (as we know it) does not pass within them; obviously there still is some level of cause and effect, but it would be "meta-time", not Time in Arda. This means that, to one who knows or sees the Music, Arda is visible in its entirety, both in space and in time. Yet, somehow, souls are not part of Arda, why they can participate in the Second Music, something that will in the next frame meta-time will "heal" Arda. In reality it will mean Arda Remade, and Arda Marred will become Arda Unmade.

I dislike having Ilvitar directly intervene in the workings of Arda for this (and other) reasons. Ilvitar is, to my mind, understood to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Why should He have to alter anything? All He needs to do is let his plan (which is, of course, perfect) unfold. If Ilvitar did decide to make a change, nobody on Arda save the Valar would notice: it was a change in the Music, which means a change to the past as well as the present, so to anybody it would be as though it had always been that way. The only reason why the Valar would notice is because They saw the Vision and the Music before entering into it, so They might notice a change from the original, assuming that They recognized enough of the Music to notice it!

Speaking of which, this explains a problem that comes up regarding the Changing of the World. In a letter, Tolkien noted that if anybody had stood upon the mountains above Lindon and watched the Elven ships sailing into the West, they would have noticed the ship simply getting smaller and not experiencing an effect of "hull down", when a ship sinks over the horizon. The reason why this phenomenon occurs is of course due to the fact that the Earth is a sphere, and that the observer's view is being obstructed by a curved surface. Yet, in Unfinished Tales, there is mention of Nmenorean sailors observing the peak of the Meneltarma being visible before they see the lower parts of their island, indicating that they, too, were sailing on a curved surface, not a flat one like Arda Unchanged was supposed to be. I suggest that the reason why anybody knows about the Changing of the World is that enough of the underlying plan for Arda was known that it was originally "meant" to be flat, and that the downfall of Nmenor had something to do with its not being flat, despite the fact that it was a sphere even while Nmenor was still there!

In any case, what Tolkien was writing was a myth.. and myths that include a "Genesis" story definitely need to have such conceptions as "soul" and "afterlife" explained in my opinion.


This may not actually true: the ancient Sumerians did not, I am to understand, believe in an afterlife. There is next to no mention of an afterlife through much of the Old Testament as well (including the book of Genesis itself). I think that the importance of the afterlife to modern religion is something that was added later - although it was certainly added independently a number of times.


I'm afraid I can't say I agree with this one either. I don't think there ever was an intention to make the death of Men something different than it is in our world and yes, for Tolkien as a Catholic, it definitely involved an afterlife of sorts. He may not have written it down in his first stories, but there is nothing to indicate he "changed his mind about the spiritual state of Men" at any point.


The only evidence to imply that Tolkien "changed his mind" is the existence of ghosts in his stories, since ghosts should not be possible given the account presented in the Silmarillion. I don't think he ever really changed his mind, since he always was a Catholic. I think that the biggest change is that he actually started to think critically about the nature of Men in his stories!

My problem with Tolkien's blending of his religion with his legendarium is this: if human beings are immortal (which they are, if they have immortal souls, and that soul is the primary mode of a person's existence), then why should humans fear death? In particular, this is literature, and it is fantasy, heroic fantasy, in which heroes are trying to save populations from dying. Why should the reader care, if the people getting saved are already immortal?

Obviously, the problem is solved if the focus of the theology is moved from the fa to the hra, since the hra is absolutely not immortal, not even for Elves (since they can still die of injury, just not of age). The obvious focus of Tolkien's published works is on the physical world with occasional hints at a spiritual one, and I think that is for a very good reason. I also know from a letter that Tolkien did not publish some of his later works because of its conflict with good storytelling.

This is, incidentally, intimately tied up with the Lthien situation. As the link that you provided to the Council of Elrond discussion remarks, Lthien is possibly the most powerful of all of the Elven mages (you know what I mean) in the history of Arda, being at least equal to Fanor himself. Moreover, since the Silmarils contain the last of the Light of the Trees, they presumably have the last of Varda's power, of Hope, so as long as Melkor has all three of them, even the Valar cannot dethrone him. In short, Lthien (and Beren) saved Arda. And they could do it again, if they were still in Arda. This is why I like the Book of Lost Tales version of the story best; in it, it is possible that the two of them will be coming back. In versions in which they won't be (including even the song that Aragorn sings in FotR, which is admittedly a legend told by those who don't necessarily know), there is the problem that a great deal of the subsequent decay of Arda could probably have been prevented by the two of them popping up at the right time and place. Now, if their primary existence is bodily, then they won't come back anyway. Even if their spirits come back, they will be different people because they have different bodies. However, if spirits are the main deal, then sending their spirits beyond means one of two things: either (1) Ilvitar (since He told Manw what to do) is either callous, not really caring about all the bad things that will happen to Arda before Frodo and Sam do their job, or (2) Arda really is only a sideshow, and the place where B&L are going is the main attraction. I think we can rule (1) out, and if (2) is the case, then Arda is uninteresting: I want to know what the real deal is! :S

(I also think that this is much of the reason why I am not Christian myself: I find its dogma jarring to my suspension of disbelief)


I don't see the LotR really contrasting Tolkien's later (or earlier) conceptions of afterlife. I still don't agree with the spirits of the Dead Marshes being spirits of Elves or Men. Among the spirits haunting the Marshes there might be spirits of fallen Orcs, but Men no. Also, we know that the Barrow-wights were sent to Barrow-downs by the Witch-king and they were NOT the spirits of those kings whose tombs they inhabited.


All of this is, of course, true, except possibly for the Dead Marshes sequence. However, these ghosts do contain memories of the lives of the people whose graves they are haunting. I interpret this to mean that the dead left something behind. Of course, their souls, their far, were not left behind. This is why I am postulating the existence of yet another kind of spirit that people in Arda possess, that could have been left behind.


Beren, even if it might seem that I disagree with you a lot. It's interesting to see how other people interpret Tolkien's work and hear their explanations for it, especially if it differs from one's own point of view. There is no "right explanation" for anything and neither one of us is "wrong." Heck, the professor contradicts himself already often enough to have a fight with himself!


Speaking of religion, now you're preaching to the choir! :P Indeed, if even the Professor argued with himself, surely I am free to argue with him, too! :P
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#19 Beren IV

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 03:53 PM

Interesting correlary to Elves being immune to sunburn: would they also be immune to radiation poisoning and radioactivity?
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#20 Pedro Falco

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 10:01 PM

Genetically speaking, individuals of different species can conceive a heir, but the heir will be sterile, just like what happens when you breed a donkey with a horse.

Not having melanine in their skin means they are very vulnerable to sunrays, so they would have a lot of freckles, with the rotine they have.

So, there can be 3 conclusions: they have another kind of protein (wich is pale, and not dark as melanine); they found some kind of super sunscreen in the plants they love or in the magics they wield; or their environment is too soft to stimulate spontaeous melanin production in the skin!

I loved genetics at school, i miss the biology classes in university (i study Computer Science)...
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Pedro Falco
Latin: Petrus Falco; Literally means 'Stone Hawk'.
English equivalent: ' Peter ';


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