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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) Re: The Best Introduction To The Mountains
Date: Fri, 04 Jan 2002 09:31:52 -0600

on 1/3/02 5:16 PM, James Jordan at jbjordan4@home.com wrote:

>> Wolfe's illustrations of Tolkien's "discovery," which he allegedly wrote
>> LOTR to propagandize for, both center on the willingness of people to serve
>> and be led by their "betters."
>> And if he is really talking about libertarianism, it's curious he should
>> pick the "Dark Ages" as his exemplar, a time not particularly known for
>> security of property.
> The "Christian model" of societal hierarchy, to which Wolfe surely
> subscribes, and which people on this list are free to reject, affirms the
> following matters, among others:

[summary snipped]

I agree that these are probably Wolfe's political views, with a couple of

> 3. People usually but not always grow into their callings as a
> result of their upbringing.
> 3a. Corollary: Some kind of political aristocracy, with sons (and
> daughters nowadays) reared for rule, in inescapable: Kennedys, Bushes, etc.
> The "skull & bones" elite." The Eastern Establishment. Etc.

This I'm not so sure about.  None of Wolfe's "good rulers" are reared for
rule that I can recall, although Silk is "bred" for rule.  And surely you
didn't mean to imply that Wolfe sees "Kennedys, Bushes, etc. The "skull &
bones" elite. The Eastern Establishment. Etc." as the sort of people who
should be running things.  With the possible exception of the Bushes, these
are precisely the sort of people he despises.

> This is not a matter of "lessers" serving
> "betters," but of mutual service of various sorts.

Here I disagree.  Wolfe does believe in "betters," which implies the
existence of "lessers," even if he doesn't use the latter word.  Quoting
again from his essay, the Sylvan Elves "choose to be ruled by people better
than themselves...": not better at governing, but better period.  Examples
can be found in his fiction, too: Silkhorn is better than the people around
him, and the protagonist of "Tracking Song," as a true human, is better than
the animal-people he moves among.

> Thus, I did not read Wolfe's article as saying that Tolkein had
> "discovered" a society where the lessers delight to serve their betters --
> though Adam may be right that those who rejected his essay thought he was
> saying this -- but as saying Tolkein was reflecting on the nature of
> societal hierarchy as delineated above.

I'm not sure if you're objecting specifically to my use of the word
"discovered," but while the specific word may not be in Wolfe's article, I
think it accurately reflects it:

"Philology led him [Tolkien] to the study of the largely illiterate
societies of Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of
the true Middle Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality --
let us call it Folk Law -- that has almost disappeared from his world and

It seems to me that Wolfe does indeed think that Tolkien "discovered" a
society which followed the principles you listed, however one wishes to
describe it.  I certainly don't get the impression Wolfe regards Tolkien as
a political philosopher.

> Finally, "dark ages" is just sarcasm. What most of us were taught
> in high school about this period is mostly rubbish, and Wolfe knows it (or
> believes it, anyway).

I'm aware that the popular stereotype of the "Dark Ages" is thoroughly
misleading; that's why I put it in quotes.  Wolfe used the term himself, and
I don't think he's being sarcastic.  And it is true that there wasn't much
security of property in Europe between 400 and 1000 A.D.


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