Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Alternate Storylines

In the introduction to Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien explains that he often will preserve various versions of his father’s stories not because it is impossible to determine which ones have the “correct” plots, but because he appreciates that in Arda “ancient traditions [would be] handed down in diverse forms among different peoples through long ages” (10). What do you think about the existence of these equally correct alternate storylines? Do you find this variety distracting, or does it add more depth to the stories?


Ashley Cauley said...

I am a bit frustrated with there being alternate versions of the same stories. Even though I know better, when I read Tolkien I like to think that he is simply reporting history. All these things actually happened in the distant past and have been miraculously handed down to modern readers. Of course this is not the case. Tolkien was a writer with creative ideas who wasn't always sure how he wanted things to turn out. Even if it was actual history, sometimes there are different accounts of the same event. I'm sure U.S. history textbooks describe WWII very differently than German or Japanese textbooks. There is always another side to the story. But as a reader, I would prefer it if there was one cohesive, established account of what happened.

Megan said...

AAAAAHHHH indeterminacy of the text yes please.

Sorry, don't know what came over me. But this kind of stuff is super interesting to me, but I guess primarily in all my "backward" medievalist ways (where, to steal a joke from Michael Drout, "there are literally holes in the 'Beowulf' manuscript: THAT's indeterminacy for you!").

So the "indeterminacy of the text" is a literary theory we talk about (along with deconstruction and all that good stuff) when we discuss ambiguity in literature, and also editions and transmissions of texts.

So like in Tolkien, we get an older version of Eol and Aredhel where rape or forced marriage is more heavily implied than in later versions where she doesn't exactly say no (but admittedly, still creepy).

Indeterminacy of a text can also be found when something is written ambiguously. We might cite the same example of Eol and Aredhel (where it is ambiguous whether Aredhel's consent is given), or, I can't think of anything else right now apparently, but we have talked about this. The passages that are ambiguous, and what does this word "Doom" mean really, and why are there all these gaps and vagueness, etc.

So yes, I think that all these editions and scraps are essential. It's frustrating for a casual reader, but it's a veritable goldmine for people like us.