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|In THE POWER OF MYTH and THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, Joseph Campbell argues that any society deficient in mythology risks proper moral development. He presented four functions of myth:
The first function of a mythology is to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe...
Certainly as we know from his conversations with C. S. Lewis, Tolkien would agree with Campbell's assessment. This page will examine the rubrics of the Judeo-Christian and Greek creation myths (Genesis, The Theogony and Works and Days), as templates through which Tolkien's Silmarillion can be evaluated.
David Leeming (THE WORLD OF MYTH, N.Y.: Oxford University, 1990) notes that myths explore the "dreams of mankind" (p.6), and certainly one such dream is "Where did I and my world come from?" He later stipulates the following criteria for creation myths:
Ted E. Tollefson (click here) has an excellent site (WHAT DOES A CREATION MYTH DO?) on which he describes the several elements of a creation myth. I have added the examples from the sacred texts: Genesis and The Theogony...
1. Explains how the world came into being,
Genesis: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void...and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, And God said ... (I,1-3) (Some translations read: "...while a mighty wind swept over the waters.")
The Theogony: Chaos was born first and after her came Gaia/
The Greek definition brings order out of chaos. The existence of the participants and the inherent paradoxes is taken as a given. Not till the TIMAEUS will we find the famous application of reason to this process:
Thus far in what we have been saying, with small exception, the works of intelligence have been set forth; and now we must place by the side of them in our discourse the things which come into being through necessity-for the creation is mixed, being made up of necessity and mind. Mind, the ruling power, persuaded necessity to bring the greater part of created things to perfection, and thus and after this manner in the beginning, when the influence of reason got the better of necessity, the universe was created. (48) as cited in Timaeus and Critias ), Desmond Lee (ed.). Penguin Classics1977.
Timaeus anticipates the arguments for the existence of God fashioned by Aquinas.
2. Establishes a model of the creative process
Genesis: [The model of the creative process comes from the active voice verbs used to predicate what God did.] We are told that God "said," "saw," "made," "divided," and that two results occurred: 1--"It was so, and 2- "it was good." I, (passim). [Additionally God's creation simultaneously occurs with his will, and is intrinsically worthy: "]...and God saw that it was good" (I, 21). From the romantic period persecutive, we might recall Coleridge's reference in the Biographia to the primary imagination's "...infinite I AM."which coexists with the "conscious will."
The Theogony: [The model is order.] "Tell of the gods...the giver of blessings,/
Unlike Genesis, however, the gods were pre-existed by Chaos etc. -primeval elements whose origin is not explained. Platonically, we know the maker needed a pre-existing model to create, so he looked to the forms, especially the form of the good whose existence in The Republic is a given.
3. Builds up a world view, a hierarchy of values, "first things first,"and (4) Often, but not always, this hierarchy includes genders, races, tribes, religions
Genesis: [The creation stories in Genesis is clear on the order: God establishes a macrocosm for man by separating the elements, and then populating earth with what man will need for happiness. Finally after blessing the macrocosm, God (I, 27)] "...created man in his own image male and female, and God blessed them." God gave man dominion over the macrocosm (order), and concluded by noting all "...was very good." (I,v31). Chapter II provides more detail on the creation of man from dust, followed by the creation of the garden and of course the prohibition (vs.16 ff.) Of note here is that God continues to populate the garden and gave Adam permission to name them; the process is culminated when Adam, whom God sees as lonely, is given a mate which comes from him, Adam.
Several ideas emerge--the order is from macro to micro suggesting the idea that indigenous to the human condition is opposites including gender. Secondly, God is pleased with His result, noting though that there is one opposite with which Adam cannot experiment, the result of which would be death: "...the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (v.17). Much will be said of this later, including Campbell's interpretation with which Tolkien might NOT agree.
The Theogony: Given the Greek idea of order from chaos, The Theogony outlines a detailed hierarchy not unlike Tolkien's. Critics including Edith Hamilton and Apostolos Aathanassakis (editor and translator of The Theogony) have studied the text from this perspective, and for our purposes, the following hierarchy is important. Aathannassakis notes, "The Theogony is a digressive poem with a unifying theme..." (p. 5). The explication of the unifying theme rings true for readers of The Silmarillion: "Hesiod had a formidable task to perform. He had to explain the origin of the world and of the gods who ruled it, and even though scientific thought as we know it did not exist in his day, his genealogical method and mythopoeic reasoning constitute a speculation that is rational in its own terms." (p. 7).
If stipulating that Tolkien wishes scientific thought did not exist, his rational is the same. I have noted the following themes pertinent to Tolkien.
Such a perspective is hardly incompatible with the Christianity of Tolkien, the lynchpin of which is a God who "...has in hand the rudder of the world."
4, 5, 6, and 7. Have in common the fall from grace, in Christianity known as the "fortunate fall" allowing the redemption...
Gender implies sexuality, which is often linked to salvation. Explains how things come to be (#1) often involves explaining how and why bad things happen. The description of the Fall or Descent tell us who to blame (malogony). Myths of Fall imply myths of Return; Sin implies Grace, Disease implies cure.
Obviously the problem of evil has always conflicted with our gods whom we wish benevolent: so either God is "willing but not able," or "able but not willing" to prevent it. We will reference Genesis.
Chapter 3 (1ff) details the well-known account:
"Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord had made. The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden.?" The women answered the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the tree in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, " You shall not eat of it or even touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the women: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it, you eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." The women saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, so she took some of the fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked." (1-6)
God's response seems defensive: "...See! The man has become like one of Us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever." (v. 22)
The moral issues are complex. First, Tolkien's view is orthodox. In a letter to Christopher dated 30 January, 1945, Tolkien lamented (interestingly by castigating scientists) those who "...tucked Genesis into a lumber room of their minds... (He lamented cutting down trees) as not very fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house..." His position is clear: Lauding the value of myth, he warned, "I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'...Genesis is separated by who we do not know how many sad exiled generations from the Fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'." (Letters, p. 110). He continues to argue a perspective not unlike Wordsworth's "Intimation's Ode," wherein (Stanza V) "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." (A Platonic modification).
Thus, while rejecting the literal (I am reminded of Galileo's, "The Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." ), Tolkien obviously endorses the idea of the fall, but others including Joseph Campbell do not share the perspective. In The Power of Myth, he notes,
...the serpent represents the primary function of life,
from The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), p. 42-49.
Tolkien and Campbell, however, do not completely disagree as the Tolkien interview of this site makes clear. The myth, especially as read by Milton in IX of Paradise Lost squarely asserts feminine culpability. A misogynistic interpretation would not surprise readers of Milton, but the biblical text argues that the women gave it to the man who ate it. Does this imply that the passion of Eve, seen as an allegory for lower reason in the Middle Ages, conflicts with Adam's higher reason or wisdom which seeks God. Feminist interpretations rightly deconstruct this analysis.
He elaborates that without leaving the garden, we "would all be a bunch of babies." Man must leave the garden to grow, as one reading of Job validates when he demands an explanation from God for his suffering. This read suggests, with a bit of imagination, that one day, man might be as God, a fear which animated many STAR TREK episodes given Gene Roddenberry's belief
The conflict animates civilization. Pope well understood ("Essay on Man") that man "created have to rise, half to fall," will always be "The glory, jest and riddle of the word." (Epistle II). Campbell and Tolkien of course disagree on the read of the myth; Tolkien's conservative Catholicism mandates the fall as a necessary pre-condition for the redemption (think Gandalf). Campbell, however, sees theology as a reduction from mythology in which "...everything is reduced to a code, a creed." (p. 141). The birth of Jesus becomes a transcendental spiritual experience motivated by compassion (p. 176). With that, at least, Tolkien would agree.
The Theogony and Works and Days
Hesiod's account of creation is well known from the Promethian perspective insofar as he stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man. Romantics such as Tolkien and Coleridge and Shelley have used fire metaphorically for the creative process, whether it be a divine spark, an imperishable flame, and the fading coal. In The Theogony, the implication is generic. His mind is described as "labyrinthine" (l.522) perhaps anticipating the hubris Sophocles will condemn, for man [cannot] be the "measure of all things." [Protagoras].
Writing for the "common man," Hesiod in Works and Days immediately establishes the question that plagues Job--strife. Hesiod notes there are two kinds. Rejecting strife that would eventually produce the horrors of WWI, he turns to the second as necessary condition for growth: " She [Night's eldest daughter] is much better, and she stirs even the shiftless on to work.../This strife is good for mortals. (ll.17-24). In Campbell's sense, strife is the catalyst that can (and should) propel man out of the garden, but this Job-like desire to know comes with a consequence: the loss of innocence and the potential for error. In this poem, more details of Promethius' 'crime' is provided. Zeus notes not unlike Genesis
..there is none craftier than you,/and you rejoice at tricking
Our God does not laugh (or is not supposed to), but these and the Homeric ones do. Depending on the perspective, much good derives. Consequences become gender orientated, and it would be instructive to compare Pandora to (Milton's?) Eve:
The source of the evil varies in The Theogony and Works and Days. In the former, she has a "tempting snare" (l.589), her descendents are wicked, and Zeus made her, "...to be an evil for mortal men.../And he bestowed another gift, evil in place of good" culminating in a catch - 22: the single man dies lonely, but the married one risks marrying into a "foul brood." In Works and Days, Pandora opens the box out of which came our woes, all escaping but hope per the decree of Zeus.
For Hesiod's mythology and Tolkien's, the fall suggests a decline in grace, in Medieval and Renaissance terms, a descent on the chain of being. Traditionally from the 9 choirs of angels to man, who alone on the chain, being nominalist and realist (body and soul) can fall or rise. Hierarchically, Hesiod (Works and Days) find the gods creating 5 ages of men (who share a common descent with the gods):
This hierarchical order, anticipating Plato and Augustine, suggests an ethical perspective.
8 and 9. Patterns of divine/human interaction establishes modes for ethics, and all creation myths cast a shadow, evil disguised as other, often that of displaced gods of Goddesses.
The foregoing ethical perspectives may be derived, and judged as righteous or not:
THE NEXT PAGE WILL STUDY TOLKIEN'S ESSAY ON FAIRY TALE LITERATURE AND HIS MYTHOPOEIA FOR PARALLELS TO OUR ANALYSIS OF CREATION MYTHS. FOLLOWED BY AN APPLICATION THE SILMARILLION