Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fate vs. Doom

Throughout our various class discussions, the topics of fate and doom have constantly arisen. We seem to have to a general consensus that Tolkien uses doom to imply a kind of weight that is simply not associated with fate. I would like to challenge this definition, although I do not wish to entirely dismiss it. I see the main difference between Tolkien's fate and doom as inevitability. I would argue that this is the primary distinguishing characteristic between the two. Doom implies inevitability and fate does not. One of the main reasons I say this, is because I think our definition of weight applies a negative connotation to the word doom. While the most modern use of doom is inexorably negative, I doubt Tolkien meant this to come across in his writing. Merriam Websters, which I believe to be the most modern and culturally relevant dictionary today, defines doom primarily as:

: very bad events or situations that cannot be avoided
: death or ruin

Tolkien on the other hand would have followed the Oxford English Dictionary or more than likely his own definition entirely. 

I would point to the way The Silmarillion describes the meeting and love of Beren and Luthien to be their doom. This, in no way has a negative connotation, but their is distinct evidence in the Lay of Beren and Luthien that Tolkien viewed these things as inevitable. Not even the most impossible task in Arda, stealing a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown is able to deter this destiny. The circumstances of the deaths of Beren and Luthien, on the other hand, were notably marked as their fate. Indeed death itself or rather what lies beyond is the described as the fate of the Children of Illuvatar. While death is normally seen as inevitable, it is not so in the world of Tolkien. The Elves are not graced with any such inevitability nor are many of the creatures of darkness. Additionally for the Men, what lies beyond the veil of death remains a mystery. In fact is so to all but Illuvatar, this possibility of multiple outcomes is distinguished fate from doom. A doom is a single inevitable end and fate simply is not so.

Turning to Lord of the Rings, it is said that Frodo's doom is to bear the ring to Mordor. Galadriel knows this all along because it is inevitable. Gandalf too is aware of this which is why he can sense that Frodo is alive until inevitably he passes into Mordor. The issue of what will happen to the ring is a matter of fate. Galadriel tells Frodo in a very straight up manner that the quest is fated to failed, but not to despair. The idea that hope is gone but not lost is repeated multiple times throughout the work. Also repeated is the concept that despair will only serve to make the outcome inevitable. In other words, hope in the face of overwhelming odds is what allows a fate to remain flexible. I guess what i'm mainly trying to say is that fate vs. doom lies on an intensely complicated continuum in Tolkien's writings and I think it is worth our reconsideration.


Yavanna said...

I think we can tie some of this back to more Judeo-Christian mythological text and similar archaic distinctions and specific diction. Tolkien was a Catholic and new a great deal about its mythologies, and subtleties. There is often this idea within the more mythological notes of Catholicism about the 'doom of man'. It is sin, and vice, which are always going to be apart of mortal man's path in the world. Yet, through this doom there is salvation in the form of another doom. That being the 'doom of Jesus', i.e. his sacrifice (which was foretold) to absolve humanity of its sins.

In both cases, while someone is doomed (in the first case from the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and in the second to fulfill their divine purpose) it is through them that salvation, joy and the enlightenment of knowledge of god be achieved. I think that this, at the very least, subtextually influenced much of Tolkien's works and this very distinction and complex definitions throughout his mythology.

Nessa said...

I would actually have to disagree with your presumption, first of all, that "doom" being described as "heavy" makes it a more negative word than fate. I agree that in our culture doom has a negative connotation, but in the context of the class I think of the idea of doom being heavy meaning that doom is not something to be taken on lightly. Frodo's doom was to carry the Ring of Power; this was not necessarily evil. It meant that he had the opportunity to save Middle-earth. This sort of opportunity for greatness is what I associate with the weight of the word doom. It is not a crushing weight but rather weight of the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same. Doom is life-changing--world-changing.

I would also like to contest your point that, perhaps, fate is less rigid than doom. Indeed, your idea is interesting, but, if anything, I would reverse them. My perception of the word "doom" is that it is rather a description of the way that things will happen if they happen--a possible path, if you will. To use one of your examples, Galadriel tells Frodo that it is his doom to carry the Ring, and yet she offers nothing certain. She even tells him that she knows only "in part also what shall be." Though it is his "doom," we have no proof that it is entirely inevitable because there is none in Middle-earth who knows all of what is and was and will be. Thus, the use of "doom" here is clearly not inevitable.

On the other hand, I believe that "fate" much more clearly reflects traits of inevitability. Once again, using your own example, death is fate because it is inevitable for the human race. While Elves and Valar and Maiar etcetera shall never die, Humans are destined, without exception, to die eventually. That is their fate. Fate is certain; and if it is not always so, it is much more certain than doom.

Uinen said...

I think I agree with you. I like that Doom doesn't HAVE to be negative. Chance is a great way to put it. Doom sounds both artful and awful, however maybe it's just a word to take the weight off of Fate, or to use something that isn't quite as overused as Fate and Destiny. Could it be that simple?
If we think about this in terms of Lord of the Rings specifically, Frodo's quest will lead to his Doom. Mount Doom? Unfortunate events? Doom doesn't mean "to die." As pointed out, death is a secondary definition. I like comparing Tolkien's use to literal definition rather than leaning on our own connotation.
I agree with your points and I think we can expand on what it really means to be 'doomed.'

Lórien said...

I would like to briefly respond to Nessa's comment, which I think raises a number of very valid points. My main counter-argument would be that I believe Tolkien emphasizes that humans are the masters of their own fate. He provides enough compelling evidence to say that our decisions and choice will affect the outcome of our lives. He does not ever suggest that we are masters of our doom. Doom is ultimately beyond our control. The other thing I want to address, is the inevitably of death. This is an irrefutable fact, however I don't think that Tolkien ever tries to argue that we control whether or not we die. Rather we can control what happens to our souls after we die. I think it is clear that he believes a person's choices in life have a direct affect on the quality of existence beyond the veil, whatever it may be. In this sense we do exercise a certain amount of control over our own deaths. Death may be inevitable but the result is entirely up to us.