Thursday, October 22, 2015

Evolving Understanding of Tolkien's Mythmaking

Now that we are more than halfway through the semester, you all should have a more and more evolving grasp of the concepts behind Tolkien's mythmaking-- that concept of mythopoeia that he used in his fiction and for which his work was a pioneer and has become so well-know.

So, what methods does Tolkien use to build his fiction through the concept of mythmaking?
What are the basic components of mythmaking in fiction?
What does it add to his works that is missing in others?
How has your understanding of mythmaking changed or evolved so far?

Feel free to answer any or all of the above!


Ossë said...

I think one method Tolkien uses in his mythmaking is to take bits and pieces from other myths and make them his own. (I want to make it clear that I'm not saying Tolkien "stole" these things or that he just copied other stories). When we study old mythology, we often see similarities and common themes repeated in different myths. This reminds me of Tolkien's description of the "Cauldron of Story" in "On Fairy-Stories." Over the years, different ideas accumulate, and mythmakers take these ideas and use them to create their own stories. Tolkien does this very well. He creates a beautifully extensive universe that is his own, but we can still see its obvious roots in ancient and medieval myth.

Estë said...

My understanding of mythmaking (according to Tolkien) has been hugely influenced by “On Fairy Stories.” I am still perhaps a bit confused about what makes mythmaking different from, say, storytelling/writing. I associate this word “mythmaking” almost always now with “subcreation,” with the idea of uniquely contributing to the greater Creation in which we find ourselves. Perhaps what sets myths apart from mere stories is their “fairy-like” qualities; they seem to necessarily incorporate the supernatural, or maybe we could call it magic or enchantment, and they seem to oftentimes have a larger, perhaps allegorical, ideal (in Sir Gawain chivalry and piety, for example, or in the LOTR self-sacrifice and kinship among other things). I would still include, though, Tolkien’s fine art into his mythmaking, which I think leads me return to the broader idea of subcreation as a more truthful definition. Subcreation does not necessarily support a goal or set of ideals, lending to the concept of creating for the sake of creating and as the fulfillment of our duty as products of the larger Creation.

Varda said...

The more we learn about Tolkien, the more I feel like even he was a little confused about what makes a myth. I love Tolkien's work, but I feel as though his desire to create English mythology was lost in the creation of his legendarium because he did copy the elements of other mythology to such a great extent. I think the most significant part of Tolkien's actual mythmaking was the creation of culture within his texts. The hobbits and elves, for example, are two very separate beings with two very different histories. We know about the history of the elves from the Silmarillion because they are so essential to the beginning of the world, but the hobbits have a more modern culture with less historical background. These different cultures, so drastically defined through music, food, drink, weaponry, practices, and specific characters, is what gives Tolkien's work qualities of an actual myth to me.

Nessa said...

One thing that I have learned over the past few months (has it really been "months" already?) is the importance of reality within mythmaking. I used to almost look down on authors for their use of the "real" within their works, wishing rather to believe that truly original creation was possible. However, though I am still not sure whether or not it is possible, I no longer think that original creation is desirable in mythmaking. Imitating reality, to some extent, is what makes mythology so relatable and lasting. I have loved seeing how even different mythologies collide and reflect one another. It is not lack of creativity; it is sub-creation.

Estë said...

Well said, Nessa. It is certainly important to acknowledge the amount of material that is borrowed and expanded on within all sub-creation and particularly in Tolkien. I always think of the metaphor of the soup in "On Fairy Stories" and how it doesn't only include previous subcreations but also crucially incorporates real history into the mix. Myth mirrors reality noticeably, even in worlds like Middle-earth that seem far-removed from us.

Vairë said...

Tolkien's method of "mythmaking" seems to be inclusive of a sort of freedom. A "why shouldn't we?" of sorts. He speaks of daring to escape fact, to dream, and yet doesn't hesitate to marry his dreams to the molecular truths of his stories. He leaves out explanation in favor of giving life. Sub-creation indeed. Tolkien is all about making a creation, something to be proud of and yet recognizing that its creation is inspired by something other and greater than you. He was not afraid to write thing that had been written before, he just imbued them with himself. All of those seem integ al parts of his process.