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From: Dan <meliza@OCF.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: (urth) tolkien, platonism, mythology
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 17:41:55 

Nigel Price wrote:

> So: the physical world as a reflection of divine reality, myths as the
> recurring patterns whereby the physical world reflects that greater reality,
> and myths as symbollic statements of enduring psychological truths.

The way you phrased this immediately reminded me of Tolkien's idea of
sub-creation: any myth-creation, by virtue of being an act of
creation, must and will reflect divine reality.  In fact I think
Tolkien goes on record to say that reading and writing mythology is a
surer way to discover the truth about the world than philosophical

As you say, myths deal with archetypes of human thought and behavior.
If in fact the world and human nature are created as a function
of some divine principle, then a myth that accurately portrays those
archetypes, that mimics the physical and psychological world, will be
(a) interesting for a long period of time to a lot of people and (b)
contain true insight into the more enduring causes of the universe.
And because the myth-maker in essence seizes upon the divine, creative
principle in order to create the myth he (or she, more likely) has no
choice but to sub-create a world that is like in nature to the greater
creation.  Or, as Severian says to Ceryx in UotNS: I doubt whether
you can seize the Increate's power without becoming like him.

I wouldn't elaborate on this except that it seems like Tolkien's
aesthetic has gotten short shrift in the archives, and since we know
that Wolfe read a lot of Tolkien's friend and intellectual
disciple--certainly in this area--C.S. Lewis, this is undoubtedly a
source to take into consideration.

And too it seems to have special bearing on Wolfe's detective fiction.
I too think the detective story is a modern mythology--though I would
argue, Nutria, that it's a Modern mythology that only realized an
explicit Christian element under Chesterton's tutelage.  It's a
mythology unique to modernity in particular, I think, because the most
important element is the "decypherability" of the crime.  Usually by
the tools of Reason, and Reason, personally exercised reason--whether
you are a layman with your own Bible, a (Baconian) scientist, a voter,
a consumer--is the raison d'etre of modernity.  And of course as we
got increasingly gloomy about Reason the myth took new forms: Kafka,
for instance, turned the tale on its head with _The Trial_, gave us
guilt with no crime and thus no solution.

But while Wolfe seems to like Kafka (_There Are Doors_ -- people
objected to the unbelievability of C-5 or whatever the alternative
universe was called -- made a lot more sense to me as a Kafkaesque
fairy-tale and something of a rebuttal to _The Castle_) I don't think he
shares Kafka's gloominess.  The detectives, professional and amateur,
have problems that they solve, usually with a combination of reason
and metaphysics, and so of course Wolfe is trying to tell us that our
own universe is similarly tractable.  But the real genius of his
sub-creation is that he doesn't only *tell* us that but presents us,
his readers, with our own puzzles to work out, giving us -- as Nigel
pointed out earlier -- exactly as much information as we need to do so.

Is this a Platonic exercise?  With my limited experience with Plato I am
inclined to say no--Plato, for instance, thought poets and their shady
(shadowy?) lyricisms should be banished from the Republic. On the other
hand Plato does make reference to the gods and the Homeric legends, but
those references are clearly to be used only as exhibits in a
thought-experiment: he wants his interlocutors to reason through why the
gods are described as behaving in a certain manner.  I suppose it all
depends on whether Wolfe thinks his stories are good, qua ipso, or merely
tools to describe some higher reality -- whether that be our own "real"
world or something higher still.  I certainly think the stories good in
their own right.


vivez sans temps mort!

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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