Tuesday 1 February 2011

The elven belief that 'desire of the soul' indicates the true nature of humans


From JRR Tolkien "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in Morgoth's Ring: History of Middle Earth volume 10 (edited by Christopher Tolkien) page 343:  



"The Elves insisted that 'desires', especially such fundamental desires as are here dealt with, were to be taken as indications of the true natures of the Incarnates, and of the direction in which their unmarred fulfilment must lie.

"They distinguished between desire of the [soul] (perception that something right or necessary is not present, leading to desire or hope for it); wish, or personal wish (the feeling of the lack of something, the force of which primarily concerns oneself, and which may have little or no reference to the general fitness of things);
illusion, the refusal to recognize that things are not as they should be, leading to the delusion that they are as one would desire them to be, when they are not so.

"The last might now be called 'wishful thinking', legitimately; but this term, the Elves would say, is quite illegitimate when applied to the first.

"The last can be disproved by reference to facts. The first not so.

"Unless desirability is held to be always delusory, and the sole basis for the hope of amendment.

"But desires of the [soul] may often be shown to be reasonable by arguments quite unconnected with personal wish. The fact that they accord with 'desire', or even with personal wish, does not invalidate them.

"Actually the Elves believed that the 'lightening of the heart' or the 'stirring of joy' (to which they often refer), which may accompany the hearing of a proposition or an argument, is not an indication of its falsity but of the recognition by the [soul] that it is on the path of truth.)"

Comment: Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth may by Tolkien's most explicit statement (or, at least, discussion) of his deepest beliefs, albeit stated in terms of his legendarium. Here, yet again, is the argument from desire, which he shared with C.S Lewis - that when humans desire something deeply that is not of this world, then this may be taken as 'evidence' that something which fully gratifies this desire is to be found in another world, the world that humans are 'made-for', where humans would be 'at home' (which is not this world).  



Anonymous said...

'when humans desire something deeply that is not of this world, then this may be taken as 'evidence' '

You're over-simplifying, I think.

When humans desire something with a depth so great that the depth itself provides entry to a transcendent plane of being, those humans momentarily become shamans, and they have access to the mystical experiences that shamans typically regard as evidential.

But the experiences that are evidential to shamans are generally imperfectly communicable to non-shamans. Thus they are not evidence to the wider community. The rest of the tribe can hear the shaman say that he put on a feather cloak and spoke with the spirits, but they can only trust or distrust.

Bruce Charlton said...

What you are saying is interesting, but not what Tolkien meant (nor what CS Lewis meant by the same argument).

Maybe this will be clearer: