Saturday, September 17, 2022

T. H. White, The Once and Future King


 Opening Passage: 

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles. She did not rap Kay's knuckles, because when Kay grew older he would be Sir Kay, the master of the estate. The Wart was called the Wart because it more or less rhymed with Art, which was short for his real name. Kay had given him the nickname. Kay was not called anything but Kay, as he was too dignified to have a nickname and would have flown into a passion if anybody had tried to give him one. The governess had red hair and some mysterious wound from which she derived a lot of prestige by showing it to all the women of the castle, behind closed doors. It was believed to be where she sat down, and to have been caused by sitting on some armour at a picnic by mistake. Eventually she offered to show it to Sir Ector, who was Kay's father, had hysterics and was sent away. They found out afterwards that she had been in a lunatic hospital for three years. (p. 3)

Summary: The Once and Future King is divided into four parts, being somewhat amended and developed versions of four prior novels. In The Sword in the Stone, Sir Ector of the Forest Sauvage needs a tutor for his son Kay and his ward Art (nicknamed Wart); a series of events leads to Merlyn, a wizard who lives backward through history, taking the role. Merlyn teaches Wart by transforming him into various kinds of animals: perch, merlin, ant, wild goose, badger. Each of these, of course, is a way to look at a different kind of life than that he knows, and thus sheds light on the best ways to live. By these and other means, Merlyn is ultimately guiding Wart to recognize that the best world is one in which Might does not dominate Right. As Kay's knighting approaches, everyone learns that King Uther Pendragon has died and that in London a sword, plunged through an anvil into a stone, has appeared with the words, "Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of This Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England." A tournament is being held so that people can try their hand at pulling the sword from the stone, and Sir Ector and the boys head to London for the tournament. When they get there, however, Kay realizes that he has forgotten his sword, and sends Wart back for it. Wart, however, finds their inn locked, and, seeing the sword in the stone, with difficulty pulls it out and takes it to Kay. Kay recognizes the sword and takes it to Sir Ector, saying that he pulled it out, but on being pressed, admits that it was Wart. Wart is crowned as King Arthur.

In The Queen of Air and Darkness, we find Arthur struggling to build his conception of a society in which Right is not trampled by Might. He repeatedly runs into the problem, however, that pretty much everyone has been invested in the Might-is-Right nature of society, and the amount of inertia in its favor is simply immense. To handle the problem, he fights the terrible Battle of Bedegraine, a battle to end all battles; to the shock of his enemies, he focuses not on destroying the commoner foot soldiers but on killing the noble knights who lead them, a new kind of warfare that is seen as a ruthless atrocity, lacking in all courtesy, but that is also very effective. Arthur has achieved the first step in his attempt to break the hold of Might-is-Right on society. Nonetheless, the older ways are not wholly routed, as the land is filled with brigand knights, and, as he learns too late, there are other kinds of malice for which he has not prepared himself. Thinking he has begun to succeed, he is seduced by Queen Morgause who, unbeknownst to him is his sister; she will give birth to a child, Mordred, who will ultimately be the doom of all of Arthur's plans.

In The Ill-Made Knight, Arthur struggles with how to deal with the fact that the war to end all wars has not in fact eliminated Might-is-Right, and works his way to the conception of a society in which Might is redirected to support the Right, in the sense of the honorable. This, of course, is the fundamental idea of the Round Table. The most complete and perfect exemplar of this approach is the knight, Sir Lancelot, who is called The Ill-Made Knight because of his extraordinary ugliness (one of White's few fundamental changes to the base narrative in Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur). No one else will so fully understand and put into effect Arthur's vision of subordinating Might to Right-as-Honor, and as Sir Lancelot becomes the greatest knight in the world, it seems like the vision is triumphant. Nonetheless, there is a snake in the grass. Sir Lancelot, while in some ways a truly good man, is a truly good man because he is constantly seeking to establish his honor, and there are limits to what a man can do in that line; such a constant struggle is beyond human strength, even the strength and conviction of someone like Lancelot. He of course begins to have an affair with Queen Guinevere, Arthur's wife, and thus even as he seems most successful is a failure, and knows it. And, of course, the affair of Lancelot and Guinevere sets in place another key element of what will destroy Arthur's conception of a society not based on Might-is-Right.

Nonetheless, Arthur's conception is also evolving, and as time has gone on, Arthur has realized that his conception of a society of Might supporting the honorable Right is inadequate -- the goal of honor is not ambitious enough to serve as an adequate bulwark against Might-is-Right. Thus Arthur develops the conception of a society of Might supporting the spiritual Right, and the knights set off on the Quest of the Holy Grail. Almost all of the knights fail, although a few, like Lancelot, come close in their way; only three knights succeed: Sir Galahad, Sir Percivale, and Sir Bors. This conception turns out to be inadequate as well. Nonetheless it arguably achieves one great good, saving Sir Lancelot, who learns through the course of it that, despite his sins, God still loves him. Even the greatest knight in the world cannot do right all the time; only God is capable of that.

Thus in the final part, The Candle in the Wind, we find Arthur beginning to work through a fourth conception of society, which is not a society of Might in support of Right, since his career as king has established that such a conception puts a burden on human beings that they cannot carry. The king therefore has begun working out an idea of a society in which Right, as Law, is Might. But the knights struggle with this conception, and there are evil men who, seeking to destroy Arthur, or Guinevere, or Lancelot, are willing to try to twist this conception to their ends. In particular, a faction builds around the Orkney knights, the sons of Queen Morgause; Sir Gawaine is technically the leader, but in practice it is often his brothers, the violent Sir Agravaine and the smooth, resentful Sir Mordred, who call the shots, because Sir Gawaine, being stubborn, prone to anger, and fiercely loyal to family is easily manipulated by them. Sir Mordred, while not exceptional as knight, has increased his influence in court by becoming the leader of the fashionable set; a political schemer, he uses this to gain popular support and to build a sort of proto-fascist movement based on a bunch of fashionable ideas, some of which are inconsistent with Arthur's Right-is-Might conception. (At one point, he is literally represented in blackshirt-like terms.) Nonetheless, they are capable of using that conception to their own ends. Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred rig a situation in which Guenevere and Lancelot are caught redhanded in the affair under conditions that can be regarded as treasonous; Arthur, to preserve his Right-as-Law-is-Might must bow to the Law. Guenevere is condemned to burning at the stake for treason. Lancelot saves her from the stake, but in the course of doing so kills many good knights, including the two youngest (and most noble) Orkney brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. Lancelot, who had good relations with them both (especially Sir Gareth) would have spared them, but in the heat of the moment, he did not recognize them, and they were unarmored, and therefore could not even defend themselves against the greatest knight in the world in full armor. The fellowship of the Round Table is broken. War is unavoidable, and Arthur to uphold the rule of law must take the Orkney side against Sir Lancelot, his best friend and most loyal knight. The situation suits Sir Mordred; while Arthur is at war, he is named Protector, and he uses this opportunity to declare himself king and try to force Guenevere to marry him. She flees and locks herself in the Tower of London; Sir Mordred lays siege, and makes extensive use of a weapon that had only rarely and tentatively been used before: the cannon. Chivalry is dead. Might-is-Right has returned.

Thus Arthur's conception of a society built on Right-as-Law-is-Might has also failed. He has some dim conception of what might be able to replace it, in which culture rather than law is the key expression of Right, but he has run out of time. The work ends with Arthur preparing to go out to his last battle, in which he will die, or, as some say, be carried off to Avilion, to return one day with the triumph of Right over Might, the once and future king.

The Once and Future King is a very humorous work, but it is not a comedy. It is a tragedy. (White is always very explicit about this.) King Arthur, who set out to build a society that was truly just, fails utterly, and his failure is inevitable. Each of his attempts to implement a just society carries within it, unseen, the seed of its own failure, and the failures mount up until they ultimately sweep everything away, and Might-is-Right prevails again. Nobility shines out briefly, like a candle in the darkness, and is snuffed out in the wind; justice collapses into blood and fire. But Arthur is better than those who defeat him, and his vision of society is a better vision than the one that replaces it. If only we made the effort to fail so well.

The purpose of the humor in the work, I think, should be seen as pedagogical. What White is trying to do is take Malory's fifteenth century tale and teach us how to appreciate it. Arthur's education in The Sword in the Stone, for instance, is not just Arthur's education but the reader's education in the ideas needed to appreciate the nobility and value of the Arthurian legend and ideal, as White sees them. Much of the humor, for instance, is devoted to showing that the knights of the Round Table are rather surprisingly like us, or that we, having come through two world wars, should perhaps not be so quick to dismiss other people as belonging to 'the dark ages'. How much one enjoys it, I think, will depend in part on how successful the humor is at making this connection for the reader and in part on how well he humor works on its own. For my part, I think it excels at the first and is more uneven at the second; I don't quite like how some of the knights, particularly Sir Gawaine (a walking Celtic stereotype) and Sir Lancelot, are handled, for instance. But the book is nonetheless, without any doubt, one of the most powerfully written morality tales of the past hundred years.

Favorite Passage:

"We only know that the homicides and those who didn't confess were turned back; and you say that Galahad, Bors, and Percivale were allowed. I am told that Galahad and Percivale were virgins; and Bors, although he was not quite a virgin, turned out to be a first-class theologian. I suppose Bors passed for his dogma, and Percivale for his innocence. I know hardly anything about Galahad, except that everybody dislikes him."

"Dislikes him?"

"They complain about his being inhuman."

Lancelot considered his cup.

"He is inhuman," he said at last. "But why should he be human? Are angels supposed to be human?"

"I don't quite follow."

"Do you think that if the Archangel Michael were to come here this minute, he would say: 'What charming weather we are having today. Won't you have a glass of whiskey?'" (pp. 449-450)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


T. H. White, The Once and Future King, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York: 1958).


 Today is the feast of St. Roberto Bellarmino, Doctor of the Church. From Bellarmine's Controversies of the Christian Faith (Book I, Chapter 2):

One can add to this that the providence of God so rules and moderates things according as the nature of each one demands: but the nature of man requires that, since we are endowed with a mind and a body, we grasp bodily things more easily than spiritual things; through the things that are perceived by the sense of the body, as it were by steps and grades, we are led to spiritual and heavenly things. Therefore, God does not teach all generally by an internal inspiration what is to be believed about himself, or what he wishes to be done by his own creatures; but he willed to instruct us through corporal writings which we can both see and read.

[St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, SJ,  Controversies of the Christian Faith, Baker, tr., Keep the Faith, Inc. (2016), p. 25]

Friday, September 16, 2022

Dashed Off XXIII

 the fish of Tobit as a type of Christ, enlightening and driving away evil, preparing for a marriage

Even the genizah, yea, even the trash heap of the intellectual life is eventually of value.

filial piety -> ancestral rites -> doctrine of afterlife

agriculture // prayer
(cp Mishnah, Seeds)

probability axioms as diagrammatic
(1) A given A is a part in the diagram or it is not.
(2) The whole diagram is all the probability.
(3) Every part of the diagram is a sum of all its parts.

analogy to possibility
(1) Everything is at least part of what is possible or it is not.
(2) All the parts of what is possible are together the whole of what is possible.
(3) Every part of what is possible is the summative whole of all of its own parts.

The Analects envisions education as moments and patterns of conversation.

Different ends, different modalities.

Responding aptly to reasons is an inherently nondetermined action.

(1) In whatever has a task or action, the good seems to be in its task.
(2) There seems no principled reason why this would not also be true for man, if he has a task.
-- -- (a) It would be strange for particular states of human life to have tasks, but human life to have none that can unite them.
-- -- (b) Given that organs have tasks, it would make sense for the whole human being to have a task that unites them.
(3) This task cannot be mere living for that is not distinctively human.
(4) Nor can it be perceptual life, for the same reason.
(5) Therefore it must be of some practical life according to reason.
(6) A task is well performed when performed according to its proper excellence.
(7) Therefore the human good is the task that is excellent way proper to a rational life.

An individual who is in the Church, but largely only nominally, cultural  attachment, attending only occasionally, etc., is nonetheless in a much better position than one who is so purely nominally, even if they are otherwise similar, because, given an individual's dispositions, an environment affords possibilities of action and specific commitment.

Most of the problems with political parties and faction arise from the fact that they are noncommunities.

Fonseca: exemplar causality as passive imitation

"Things lower in being imitate those things that are higher insofar as they can." Aquinas (In I Cor)
"What is most perfect is exemplar of what is less perfect according to mode." (ST 3.56.1 ad 3)

fear of the Lord in Sirach
(a) the beginning of wisdom (1:14-15)
(b) the fullness of wisdom (1:16-17)
(c) the crown of wisdom (1:18-19)
(d) the root of wisdom (1:20)

Many discussions of free will shipwreck on failing to recognize nested, overlapping, and parallel free choices, all of which are quite common.

(1) As art builds on nature, a sign can be from both art and nature at the same time.
(2) As art can simulate nature, a sign can be such as to be either from art or from nature.
(3) Therefore the distinction of signs into natural and artificial is, despite its importance, extrinsic to the notion of a sign.

baptismal types (from Scriptural passages in Easter Vigil)
(1) Creation: Spirit in the waters
(2) Red Sea: salvation
(3) Ark: ecclesial
(4) Naaman: cleansing
(5) Baptism of Christ: adoption
(6) Jordan: orientation to heaven

instrumentally free choices: Principal agent A acts freely in such a way that instrumental agent B acts freely within end chosen by A. E.g., soldier freely choosing how to act within freely chosen orders by general.

positions as sets of possible momenta; momenta as sets of possible positions

It's always the amateurish versions of political philosophies that dominate.

acquired rights -> natural rights -> subsistent right (person) -> exemplar right (divine sovereignty)

existence proofs
-- (1) from the possible
-- -- (a) as a ground: What is possible in this way requires something actual in that way.
-- -- (b) as a consequence: Given this being possible in this way, it is a contradiction for there to be nothing actual in that way.
-- (2) from the actual
-- -- (a) as a cause: What is actual in this way guarantees that there would be something actual in that way.
-- -- (b) as an effect: Given this being actual in this way, there must have been something actual in that way.

A man becomes wise by being a fool many times.

the overflow of providence into the lesser

Contrary to what Wittgenstein often seems to suggest, solving a riddle does not consist in rethinking how words are used but putting their use in a broader appropriate intelligible context.

A better world is grown, not imposed.

civil theology and God as cause of unity between nature and culture

A just civil society must presuppose
(1) a moral order that encompasses and affects the natural order
(2) a value to human life exceeding what is obvious in a lifetime
(3) a higher law to which persons are individually, cooperatively, and collectively responsible
(4) a pure form to which the civil society tends

To predicate is to speak out more fully.

polytheism's deities as echoes of a destiny we implicitly know to be ours

An actuality/potentiality distinction is necessary in all application of mathematics to physical objects.

previous enclosure as a rhetorical strategy

the conformation and convergence aspects of community

voluntary association and the interwoven convergences of society

The central means of all extensive trade is the ledger.

the internet ecumenopolis

All constitutions are by their nature amendable; the only question is whether the constitution provides an explicit and orderly way to do it.

Solutions to the Einstein field equations with closed timelike curves are not "time travel" but recurrence or (in some cases) disjointed external time measurements.

Physicists often mean future-directed non-spacelike curves, as opposed to future directed timelike curves (chronology), when they talk about 'causality'.

(1) In every intelligibility there must be distinguished what is understood and its agreement with the principle of noncontradiction.
(2) All intelligibility presupposes some being. (That there be some intelligibility and no actuality is a contradiction.)
(3) Either the intelligible is intelligible insofar as it is itself actual or it is intelligible as depending on something actual (or both).

Every scientific advance has increased, not reduced, the number of philosophical questions and discussions.

Overpublication interferes with progress in most fields. The more there is, the more people rely on superficial signals of quality and stick to obvious discussion pieces.

Bureaucracies tend to collect insoluble problems.

Prior's interpretation of Moore's "naturalistic fallacy" is that it arises in confusing the coextensive with the cointensive -- assuming that when two terms describe the same objects they must attribute the same qualities.

In the liturgy, the Creed is recited in the person of the whole Church.

The view that Confucianism is 'secular' and 'this-worldly' arises from not reading the Classics, and therefore mistaking Confucius' and Mencius' restraint in the mode of teaching for the full content of their teaching itself.

judicial power as cooperative conscience

Sikhism as a return to the First: "O Nanak, call Him great; only God knows how great He is."

liberalism as spilled Protestantism

All are equal beneath brutality; equality without liberty is slavery, equality without fraternity is death.

"Death would not be called bad, O people, if one know how truly to die." Sri Guru Granth 579

the daffy dandelion and the dandy daffodil

All explanations originally take form within a story.

three forms of self-terminating procedure: resource lapse, error state, goal state

We simplify theories by: combinatorial review, translation, and rule manipulation.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Links of Note

 * Mahrad Almotahari & Brian Rabern, The Onus in 'Ought' (PDF)

* Marcus Hunt, Kant & Fate (PDF)

* Armin Rosen, It's Open Season on Jews in New York City, looks at the increase of harassments and assaults against Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, in NYC, and the reasons for the almost nonexistence of arrests and convictions for them.

* Olaf Muller, Goethe contra Newton on Colours, Light, and the Philosophy of Science (PDF)

* David P. Hunt, Evil and Theistic Minimalism (PDF)

* David Polansky, What price enlightenment?, looks at the malaise in higher education

* Alastair Roberts, The Death of the Queen and a Christian Understanding of Sovereignty

* Billon Alexandre, The Sense of Existence (PDF)

* Catarina Dutilh Novaes, Two Types of Refutation in Philosophical Argumentation

* Justin Mooney, The Nonconsequentialist Argument from Evil (PDF)

* Jason Manning, Books: The Rejection of Continental Drift, reviews Naomi Oreskes's The Rejection of Continental Drift

* Someone has recently scanned into the Internet Archive the two volumes of Cardinal Mercier's Modern Scholastic Philosophy.

* Carlotta Pavese, The Epistemology of Skills (PDF)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Music on My Mind


Gabriela Rocha, "Os Sonhos de Deus". Somewhat Pentecostal for my taste, but catchy nonetheless.

For Love Is Mightiest Next to Fate

 A Ballade of Waiting
by Archibald Lampman  

No girdle hath weaver or goldsmith wrought 
So rich as the arms of my love can be;
 No gems with a lovelier lustre fraught
 Than her eyes, when they answer me liquidly.
 Dear Lady of Love, be kind to me
 In days when the waters of hope abate,
 And doubt like a shimmer on sand shall be,
 In the year yet, Lady, to dream and wait. 

 Sweet mouth, that the wear of the world hath taught
 No glitter of wile or traitorie,
 More soft than a cloud in the sunset caught,
 Or the heart of a crimson peony;
 O turn not its beauty away from me;
 To kiss it and cling to it early and late
 Shall make sweet minutes of days that flee,
 In the year yet, Lady, to dream and wait. 

 Rich hair, that a painter of old had sought
 For the weaving of some soft phantasy,
 Most fair when the streams of it run distraught
 On the firm sweet shoulders yellowly;
 Dear Lady, gather it close to me,
 Weaving a nest for the double freight
Of cheeks and lips that are one and free,
 For the year yet, Lady, to dream and wait. 

 So time shall be swift till thou mate with me,
 For love is mightiest next to fate,
 And none shall be happier, Love, than we,
 In the year yet, Lady, to dream and wait.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

St. John Goldenmouth

 Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. From his Homilies on Colossians (Homily 1):

There are many causes which produce friendship; and we will pass over those which are infamous, (for none will take an objection against us in their favor, seeing they are evil.) But let us, if you will, review those which are natural, and those which arise out of the relations of life. Now of the social sort are these, for instance; one receives a kindness, or inherits a friend from forefathers, or has been a companion at table or in travel: or is neighbor to another (and these are virtuous); or is of the same trade, which last however is not sincere; for it is attended by a certain emulation and envy. But the natural are such as that of father to son, son to father, brother to brother, grandfather to descendant, mother to children, and if you like let us add also that of wife to husband; for all matrimonial attachments are also of this life, and earthly. Now these latter appear stronger than the former: appear, I said, because often they are surpassed by them. For friends have at times shown a more genuinely kind disposition than brothers, or than sons toward fathers; and when he whom a man has begotten would not succor him, one who knew him not has stood by him, and succored him. But the spiritual love is higher than all, as it were some queen ruling her subjects; and in her form is bright: for not as the other, has she anything of earth for her parent; neither habitual intercourse, nor benefits, nor nature, nor time; but she descends from above, out of heaven. And why do you wonder that she needs no benefits in order that she should subsist, seeing that neither by injuries is she overthrown? 

 Now that this love is greater than the other, hear Paul saying; For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren.

Monday, September 12, 2022

On Mills on LOTR

 The philosopher Charles Mills, who died not long ago, was known to have written a paper on The Lord of the Rings, and other events making it timely, the paper was recently published: The Wretched of Middle Earth: An Orkish Manifesto. It would have been better to let it die in the grace of oblivion, since it is embarrassingly bad. Mills is deliberately being provocative in his thesis, since he claims that if LOTR is read as 'true mythology' for Europe, as it was intended, the text ends up being a "literal transcription" of "the racist 'Aryan Myth". This is a very strong statement. It is also little implausible to begin with, since the large-scale social interactions in Middle Earth are already known to be modeled on historical and legendary interactions among Celts, Saxons, Goths, Romans, and Huns, not 'the Aryan Myth', and Tolkien in fact famously showed his lack of sympathy with the latter in a response in 1938 to a German publisher who asked him if he was of Aryan extraction. (Tolkien coldly replied that he was English and not, in fact, Indo-Iranian, none of his known ancestors having spoken Indian or Persian languages, a comment which is fundamentally inconsistent with 'the Aryan Myth'.) The implausibilities are heightened when one realizes that Mills's argument requires taking the Elves to correspond to the Aryans, a somewhat awkward correspondence given that both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings depict the Elves as a people in severe decline, and that the latter ends with their almost entirely vanishing. So one would need some reasonably strong foundation for the claim, even if Mills were being hyperbolic (which in fact he is not).

A key element of Mills's argument is that the world is structured by a racial hierarchy. After listing some of the various tribes and races, he says (p. 6), "And these can, I suggest, be uncontroversially ranked into three categories: elves at the top; dwarves, hobbits, and men in the middle; and orcs at the bottom. (If ents were considered to be humanoid, they would go in the middle rung." However, not only is this not an uncontroversial thing to say, it is inconsistent with the stories themselves. The Hobbit is a story about Dwarves and Hobbits; there is shown to be some hostility between Dwarves and Elves due to historical grievances, but Elves are not depicted as being in any way in a position of hierarchical superiority. The climax shows them having to put aside their grievances to stand against a common enemy; and again, the Battle of Five Armies is not structured in such a way as to suggest that the Elves are "at the top". The Lord of the Rings explicitly recognizes Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Ents as belonging to one category, the Free Peoples, and as needing to work together because of it; a third of the work is named The Fellowship of the Ring, which depicts Elf, Dwarf, Men, and Hobbits working together not in a hierarchy but in a (surprise!) fellowship, sometimes in the text called a company (with its members called companions). The Fellowship largely work as equals; insofar as a leader is needed and Gandalf (who is a member of none of these races) is not available, the leader is Aragorn, not Legolas. What is more, the members of the Fellowship who accomplish the most are the Hobbits, not the Elf; as Tolkien notes in another letter to a reader somewhere, Legolas is the member of the Company who ultimately accomplishes the least. Mills doesn't really include The Silmarillion in his argument, but if you do, the point just gets made again: a significant portion of these Elven legends are devoted to the extraordinary achievements of Men like Hurin, Turin, Beren, and Tuor. The Elves have the advantage of being older and already well established by the time Men arrive on the scene; but as far as anything else goes, Elves and Men are treated as being on a level.

There are many other problems with Mills's argument. The most glaringly obvious of these is that he bafflingly thinks that the Elves are shown as "intrinsically and apparently unchangeably good". He points to LOTR, thus gerrymandering his argument, because this is very obviously not how the Elves are depicted in The Hobbit, which he has elsewhere used for his purposes, but it's not even true in LOTR, which depicts the will to power in the One Ring as being able to corrupt anyone and  one of whose major temptation scenes involves Galadriel, even setting aside occasional references to historical sins and failings of the Elves that get more development in The Silmarillion. The footnote Mills gives to this is somewhat enlightening. He notes that Tolkien himself in a letter denies that the Elves are totally good, describing them as guilty of wanting to live in the mortal world while trying to stop history; this is simply inconsistent with Mills's claim, but Mills tries to alleviate the inconsistency by saying (p. 9n), "This seems to me a misdemeanor, certainly not on the level of the evil deeds done by the men, hobbits, and dwarves, so I think my substantive point still holds." We don't actually get much of the Dwarves at all in LOTR, except for Gimli, who commits no evil deeds, and references to the Dwarven armies fighting Sauron, and the evil deeds of Hobbits like Lotho are explicitly depicted as petty and instigated by others, so Mills is inflating his claim beyond the evidence. But more seriously, while Mills may think the will to power involved in trying to rule in Middle Earth while having the unchanging splendor of the Blessed Realm is a "misdemeanor", Tolkien very obviously does not. It's a particular form of the sin of pride and the Catholic Tolkien would never regard the mortal sin of pride as a "misdemeanor". The Lord of the Rings is thematically a story about the corruptions that arise from pride and its plot is explicitly built on the idea that evil can only really be fought by humility and pity. And it is very curious that Mills did not recognize that an analogue of this "misdemeanor" is found at the root of many of the evils of imperialism, of colonialism, and, yes, of racial exploitation, all of which have a similar, and often very recognizable, 'have your cake and eat it too' structure. How could it be otherwise? The atrocities associated with each all arise from pride. In LOTR, the desire of the Elves to create eternity in history by force of will is a trait they share with Sauron, although in them it has not grown as grotesque as it has in Sauron; they achieve victory by accepting that they must give it up and let the world take its own course. If they hadn't, they would all have eventually become Saurons after their own measure. That's the point of Galadriel's temptation.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

And Feed My Brain with Better Things

 A Ballade of a Book-Reviewer
by G. K. Chesterton  

I have not read a rotten page
Of "Sex-Hate" or "The Social Test,"
And here comes "Husks" and "Heritage" . . .
O Moses, give us all a rest!
"Ethics of Empire"! . . . I protest
I will not even cut the strings,
I'll read "Jack Redskin on the Quest"
And feed my brain with better things. 

 Somebody wants a Wiser Age
(He also wants me to invest);
Somebody likes the Finnish Stage
Because the Jesters do not jest;
And grey with dust is Dante's crest,
The bell of Rabelais soundless swings;
And the winds come out of the west
And feed my brain with better things. 

Lord of our laughter and our rage,
Look on us with our sins oppressed!
I, too, have trodden mine heritage,
Wickedly wearying of the best.
Burn from my brain and from my breast
Sloth, and the cowardice that clings,
And stiffness and the soul's arrest:
And feed my brain with better things. 

 Prince, you are host and I am guest,
Therefore I shrink from cavillings . . .
But I should have that fizz suppressed
And feed my brain with better things.