Saturday, February 9, 2013

Elves Magic as Art

We talked in our classes about The Silmarillion a bit about the creative activities of Tolkien's Elves. In one of his Letters (#131 to Milton Waldman), Tolkien explains that for the Elves "Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of its 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."

What do you make of Tolkien's efforts in this passage to equate art with magic as well as to distance this kind of art from the kind of power that is dominating and corrupting? Why might such concepts have been important to Tolkien? What do his words in the quote above tell us about his intentions for his stories?


sworland said...

It may be blasphemous to reference Harry Potter in a Tolkien forum, but I'm going to anyway. This concept of Art as magic reminds me of Dumbledore's quote (in the movies but brilliant nonetheless) that says something like, "Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic." Surely Tolkien was a magician by this definition.

"And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation." This seems to be referencing Melkor's corruption of the Elves - a "tyrannous re-forming." Maybe Tolkien is making the point that Art and Power are on opposite ends of some sort of continuum. In the lecture I read on English and Welsh, Tolkien talks a lot about aesthetic pleasure. Could it be that he heartily believes that Art is purely aesthetic and to truly classify as Art, a work must not attempt to gain power in any way?

The relationship between Art and Power may have been in the forefront of Tolkien's mind after WWII. I don't know when he wrote this letter, but perhaps Tolkien was thinking of the plethora of propaganda issued, good and bad, during the war. Maybe Tolkien saw these attempts to gain a consensus through posters, flyers, etc. as a bastardization of art since propaganda often entwines itself with Power.

S. M. said...

Tolkien’s quote reveals that he wrote his stories out of love for storytelling and with full knowledge that his creative abilities were blessings, not mere skills to be taken for granted. In fact, one major distinction that he draws between people who pursue Art and those who pursue Power is that true artists are grateful for their talents and use their gifts for the benefit of others, whereas power-hungry people never feel that their possessions are adequate and use their abilities only to further their own ends.