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February 21st, 2011
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The Back Story to the Last Ring-bearer
Well, it seems like the translation has been making some rounds. Never mind the panning it has received from some readers for style; some comments posted exhibit a profound misunderstanding of the purpose of the book. Here, then, is a backgrounder Dr. Yeskov wrote in 2000 for a Russian sci-fi fanzine Семечки ("Semechki," meaning "sunflower seeds." Eating toasted sunflower seeds is associated with idle relaxation.)

How and why I wrote an apocryphal treatment of The Lord of the Rings

First, a few words about myself. I’m not a writer either in form (no literary memberships; royalties are a negligible share of my income) or in substance (writing fiction is not my only or even main occupation). I’m a senior researcher at the Paleontological Institute of the Academy of Sciences – the very place where Yefremov used to work; professionally I’m known as the author of almost a hundred works on the classification of Chelicerata and historical biogeography. In the last few years I have found it more interesting to deal with living children than with extinct arthropods – I teach electives in high school, summer and winter supplemental courses, etc. I wrote a couple of textbooks, got involved in creating a new natural history school curriculum; if I had to state a preference, it is precisely those activities that I consider my most important. I graduated from the Biology College of the Moscow University (a well-known nest of Voltairians) and have gained most of my life experience in expeditions through Siberia and Middle Asia; I’m an epicurean hedonist in my aspirations and a skeptical rationalist by conviction. Do you get the picture?

I’m saying this to explain that I wrote The Last Ring-bearer (like my previous novel, The Gospel According to Afranius) strictly for my own enjoyment and that of my friends; I can be termed a graphomaniac in that sense. A graphomaniac can be a good or a bad writer (there were some geniuses among them, like Griboedov and Lewis Carroll), but he never writes competitively – that is, to fit the tastes of a publisher or some average book-buying audience; he only writes for his own niche (whether it’s some group or Alice Liddell is irrelevant).

The Last Ring-bearer was written for a very specific audience, too – it’s just another “fairy tale for junior scientists” of which I am one. It is meant for skeptics and agnostics brought up on Hemingway and brothers Strugatzky, for whom Tolkien is only a charming, albeit slightly tedious, writer of children’s books. Those were the people who got the biggest kick out of the novel; theirs were the reviews that used the expression “sleepless night,” dear to any writer’s heart, most often.

On the other hand, I can somewhat understand the feelings of “professional” Tolkien fans who foolishly parted with their money to buy this… this… whatever. This is not unlike some teenager, besotted with pirate fiction, tricked by the Corsair title into buying a book by a certain G. G. Byron, and then inveighing on the net: “Total baloney – loads of stupid love stories and not one decent boarding! The name must be there to trick the readers, otherwise who’d buy this crap!” Guys, please understand that this was not written for you! If you do grab something not meant for you – which ought to be obvious after reading about three paragraphs, n'est-ce pas? – then don’t whine like an Arkansas bumpkin who got taken by The Royal Nonesuch.

However, the reaction of the upset Tolkien fans leads us to a really interesting problem regarding the propriety of utilizing secondary worlds created by one’s demiurge predecessors. (Whether our own world is all that primary – whether Richard the IIIrd was an evil traitorous hunchback or Alexander of Neva a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche – is another question that is well beyond the scope of this essay.) The founder of this literary tradition of playing with others’ masks and backdrops is one Dio Chrysostomos, a Greek who lived during in the Roman Empire; dissecting Homer’s text with the scalpel of irony, while strictly abiding by his “facts,” he had rather convincingly proved that the Greek Achaeans had suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Greek Trojans and went home empty-handed, and that the rest was all pure PR, to use a modern term.

There are two ways of dealing with the foundation world. First, one can mechanically expand it in time or space, making a sequel. A sequel is by definition secondary and competitive, and I know of no sequels that are a more or less notable as literature (serial novels are another matter). Moreover, an author can’t even write a decent sequel to his own text: I think we can agree that Twenty Years After vs. The Three Musketeers is like a woodcutter vs. a carpenter.

An apocryphal work – a different take on well-known events (whether from the real or an imaginary world is irrelevant: who are we to judge which is derivative?) -- is totally different. Naturally, the world of an apocryphal work turns out differently, bearing at best the same relation to the initial world as that of d’Artagnan and milady Winter does to real France under Louis the XIII… or is it vice-versa? Actually, upon contemplation, what difference does it make? What’s important is that while the world of a sequel is a reproduction that adds absolutely nothing to the original, the worlds of the canonical and the apocryphal works can ideally make a “stereoscopic pair” that adds “depth” to the former. That is the field where all self-respecting authors have been playing ever since the aforementioned Dio, sometimes with quite decent results. (Interestingly, one can’t write a sequel to one’s own work, but one definitely can write a worthy apocrypha – take Stanislaw Lem’s Local Session.)

This immediately creates a moral contradiction that’s difficult to resolve. A view of any interest is only possible when one looks at a given world from an unusual ethical or aesthetical viewpoint, one that’s most removed from that of its creator. Thus did Mark Twain, an orthodox adept of liberte, egalite, fraternite, plunge his Yankee into the idealistic knightly world, proving convincingly that all those Galahads and Merlins lied often and bathed seldom; thus did Sapkovsky gaily turn Wonderland into black horror, brewed, for good measure, from a clinical psychoanalysis of the relationship between Professor Dodgson and little Alice Liddell; thus did feminist Gloria Howard prove, from the viewpoint of Captain Ahab’s wife, that the entire stupid hunt for the White Whale was but a game of a bunch of developmentally arrested guys, an apotheosis of male infantilism and lack of responsibility… The literary worth of the aforementioned works is beyond doubt, but whether it’s ethical to so treat the source texts by Melville, Carroll, and the Arthurian legends is not obvious.

Nor is this an idle question. For example, I’ve read Yankee at King Arthur’s Court prior to the legends themselves, and Mark Twain had forever poisoned my perception of this part of the global cultural heritage for me with his vitriol: “Now Sir Kay arose, and began to fire up on his history-mill with me for fuel. It was time for me to feel serious, and I did.” (And brothers Strugatzky made it even worse with their “comrade Merlin” and “fair sir Melnichenko…”) Honestly – cross my heart and hope to die – the last thing I want is to poison some teenager’s future experience of Tolkien. Looking for a place for The Last Ring-bearer in the long row of literary apocrypha, I dare place it next to my personal favorite Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead (the movie, not the play). An exquisitely paradoxical post-modern game Tom Stoppard played against the Shakespearean backdrop is precisely the relationship with the source Text that I sought to accomplish. Whether I have succeeded is for readers to judge.

Now for the biggest question which I get asked constantly: “What was it about the world of The Lord of the Rings that had so attracted you, enough to make you want to write in it?” Briefly, I was attracted by a logical challenge to come up with a consistent explanation for several obvious contradictions in the image of Middle Earth that the Professor painted, demonstrating thereby that those contradictions are not real. Paradoxically, it was precisely the widely known “the Professor was wrong” thesis (which, thanks to the publisher’s whim, graces the cover of the first edition of The Last Ring-bearer) that I sought to disprove.

“It appears to us that the chief motive and the main impulse of Tolkien’s myth-making was the joy of creating a vast and consistent imaginary world, well developed in space and time. It is this joy of creation that undergirds Tolkien’s ethical-religious concept of “co-creation,” which likens the true Artist creating his own world to the Creator Himself. […] Apparently, this writer has created the most complete “personal” mythology in the history of literature: an imaginary world with its own Book of Genesis, history, chronicles, geography, languages, etc. This painstakingly detailed imaginary universe has no close literary equivalent (emphasis mine).” (R.I. Kabakov, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Problem of Contemporary Literary Myth-making.) In other words, the world the Professor had created turned out to be “real”; moreover, it is the only real one in the entire fantasy genre. Well, noblesse oblige.

It’s unlikely that anyone will devote any serious effort to analyzing the ecosystem of a barren desert populated by train-sized predatory worms that eat excavators and sweat psychedelics: fantasy is fantasy. Not so the Middle Earth; the developed perfection of Tolkien’s world quite impels one to conduct natural history studies of it, sometimes provocatively so. This invites another comparison, however strange at first blush, between Tolkien and Yefremov.

Perhaps you remember The Hour of the Bull – a sociological dissection of totalitarianism plus intriguing (albeit sometimes drawn-out) philosophical digressions on various topics. Besides all that, the book featured a very curious planet – with its axis of rotation in the orbital plane (making for no seasons), eight continents grouped in four-link chains in the middle latitudes of either hemisphere (the combination of ocean currents that arises under such conditions makes for a very warm and even climate, like that of Earth’s Mezozoic). And if we observe the existence of ancient giant trees (much like mallorns), then you can be sure that the absence of strong winds that would endanger such structures is implicit in the properties of atmospheric circulation in the planet’s trade wind belts in this type of climate. It’s noteworthy that Yefremov introduced all of those peculiarities of Tormans’s physical geography only for that “real feel;” they are totally irrelevant to the literary goal of the book. It’s just that Yefremov (a professional geologist who was awarded the USSR State Prize for his scientific, rather than literary, work) couldn’t help but do a good job on these details.

Tolkien was a practicing scientist, too, but a linguist rather than a natural scientist like Yefremov, so the foundation of professional knowledge he had used to erect Middle Earth was different. It is fairly obvious to me that the Game the Oxford professor decided to play with nature began, in essence, with the creation of imaginary languages, with their own alphabets and grammar. Then he created the epic tales to match those languages, then the peoples who wrote those tales, and only then the steppes, mountains, and forests for those people to pasture their herds, build citadels, and battle the “Dark from the East.” This, precisely, was the sequence: “In the beginning was the Word” – Ainur’s music, pure and simple. Truly an excellent model of the Act of Creation!

However, Tolkien the philologist had obviously had a very weak interest in this last, non-living component of Middle Earth – its physical geography – and created it only because he had to, with predictable results. It is a well-known fact that the Professor had painstakingly verified, to the day, the lunar phases during his heroes’ long quest. I believe that, but the problem is that he had overlooked some much more significant elements of the local natural history background.

The Middle Earth has several built-in physical defects, and there’s no getting away from that. In his well-known essay Must Fantasy Be Stupid? Pereslegin provides a detailed classification of errors commonly committed by fantasy authors. He uses Tolkien’s work as an example of one of them, an “irreversible professional error”: “It occurs in a geologically unstable world. Tolkien, being a professor of English Literature, knew nothing of plate tectonics, while the topography of Beleriand and Eriador are highly important to the story; therefore, it seems impossible to fix the author’s mistake.”

(To explain: if a planet has a single continent – Middle Earth – it means that the convection currents in the planet’s mantle form a single cell, meaning that the entire “light” part of the continental crust has gathered over the point where the mantle material sinks toward the core, like foam gathers over the bathtub drain. (This had happened on Earth at least twice, in mid-Proterozoic and late Paleozoic, which is when two super-continents of Megagea and Pangea formed.) When subcontinents collide, they bunch up into folds (e.g., the Himalayas that arose at the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Eurasian plate). This means that there ought to be a huge mountain plateau like Tibet smack in the center of Middle Earth; where is it?

Pay attention, now – strictly speaking, such errors are trifles. In Pereslegin’s litany of sins an “irreversible professional error” is classified under tolerable errors, being one of the minor ones. It’s obvious that one person can’t be equally proficient in linguistics and geology (I suspect that Yefremov had committed no fewer errors creating Tormansian languages than Tolkien had in Middle Earth tectonics). So we can pardon the Professor – the infraction he had committed was not particularly dangerous to society; The Lord of the Rings can go free. This will acknowledge it to be a regular fantasy text – I mean, a real good one, easily in the top five…

Do you like this option? Me neither. Because The Lord of the Rings is not a good, or even the best, fantasy text. It is sui generis, the only one of its kind; therefore, we will not settle for anything less than a full exoneration.

We will assume that Middle Earth is as real as our world, so if some of the details do not fit our concepts, it’s our problem. On the other hand, we will adhere scrupulously to the laws of nature. As Tolkien himself wrote, it’s easy to imagine a green sun, but “To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft.” Well, the sun has its usual color in Middle Earth (and probably belongs to G-2 spectral class), its surface gravity and geochemistry do not seem different from ours, and even the lunar month is 28 days. Therefore we have to approach the task wielding Occam’s Razor (as is customary to the European intellectual tradition): we will appeal to magic and suchlike only when out of all other options.

It turns out that all the seeming contradictions of Middle Earth’s natural history can be resolved with a single assumption: that Tolkien is describing only the northwestern part of the local landmass, rather than the whole thing. Actually, it’s not even an assumption: Tolkien’s map is obviously intentionally cut off in the south and the east; why should we assume that his world ends there? There’s enough room there for the hypothetical central plateau or even other continents and archipelagos.

If Middle Earth is as real as our world, it must be as infinitely varied. It must have a myriad of aspects that Tolkien had not covered as not worthy of his attention. For example, any mention of economics is as missing from his romantic world as sex was supposedly missing in the USSR – but how likely is one to find any such mundane matters in the knightly romances of our world? It seems quite justified to me to assume that the Middle Earth population, aside from battling the Dark Lord and his minions, also plowed, reaped, traded, robbed, etc. The heroic hobbits on their quest did not subsist only on herbs, rabbits, and Elvish breads – they also drank beer in taverns, and one has to pay for beer. (I mean, one doesn’t have to, really, but that would make for a criminal rather than a knightly novel.) Trick question: what coin did they use? Right – the Professor made no mention of that.

This question regarding Middle Earth currency (which I have often used to stump Tolkien experts) has served as the departure point for a whole series of conclusions. Take Rohan, for example: what was its population’s occupation? “The best horses in Middle Earth” are all nice and fine, but horse-breeding can in no way be the mainstay of an economy. Or take the Dark Lord’s countless hordes: what did they eat in the desert of Mordor – jackrabbits? We’ve all read Lev Gumilev and have some idea about the logistics of expansion. In general, how can there be a capital city smack in the middle of a desert? That just doesn’t happen… but actually, it does happen! Cities in the desert – that’s the perished city civilizations of Sahelian Africa. Once the “Atlantic optimum” was over, Sahara began encroaching on the savannah, and that was the end of them. Actually, sorry – this isn’t The Lord of the Rings any more, but rather The Last Ring-bearer!

And if the world of Middle Earth is real, then so are its people. If all those Aragorns and Faramirs are not “dramatis personae” but real people who figure in the epochal tales of the North-western peoples (which tales Professor Tolkien had then collected and adapted), then there can be a variety of opinions concerning their deeds. This is something we’re quite familiar with in our own world: in alternative opinions Richard the IIIrd comes out a most noble man who had paid for his nobleness with both his crown and his head, plus posthumous reputation to boot, whereas Joanne of Arc turns out to have been a sadistic psychopath who belonged on that pyre like few others… Plus Middle Earth surely has PR and info wars (how else?); perhaps it even has its own Professor Fomenko to claim, in all seriousness, that there was no Second Age, Angbad is nothing but Mordor, and Fingon, Isildur and Aragorn were the same person…

However, a diversity of opinions doesn’t mean that those opinions lack clarity; quite the contrary. I see fantasy as a genre with very strict rules (only the classical “closed” detective story has stricter ones). Among those rules (such as medieval space-time structure of the world and medieval structure of the spiritual world, meaning a conflict of Absolute Good with Absolute Evil) Pereslegin lists this one: “A consistent romantic ethic – a romantic attitude of the author, the characters, and the readers toward war, love, heroism, and death.” It follows inexorably that the characters have to be classified as “good guys” and “bad guys” – it is precisely this “black-white” contrast that makes fantasy so appealing to teenagers. In other words, the very canon of fantasy forbids moral relativism – sort of like having a classical tragedy in more than one place or having the detective be the murderer in a classic detective story.

Tolkien adheres to this rule perfectly, which is why for many readers, especially older ones, The Lord of the Rings has forever remained a kind of an American action movie – a bunch of good guys goes on a quest to wipe out a bunch of bad guys, who are bad if only because they are on the other side. In reality it’s not quite so, and possibly not so at all, but this view is very common. So when it was time to set up the pieces in The Last Ring-bearer, I have decided that although I have to have “black” and “white” (as per the canon), at least I would draw the boundary between them in a line somewhat more meandering than the Anduin – more like it usually lies in real life.

And another thing. The romantic tradition does not presuppose that every bad guy be a priori treated as a fiend from Hell, which is what Tolkien consistently practiced. Even if we kill each other at the walls of Dechaud, does it follow that Comte de Rochefort is any less noble than Athos? Not to mention that the Sheriff of Nottingham counts Richard at the Lee among his men, while there are future risaldars among the Afghan bandits of Kamal. Recall Kipling’s famous:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!


Tolkien clearly prefers the first two lines, while I go for the last two, even though both are unadulterated 24K romanticism…

In conclusion, a few words about my personal take on the Professor. It is of a dual nature: I bow before Demiurge Tolkien who had created an amazing Universe, but am rather cool toward Tolkien the Storyteller, author of the tale of four Hobbits and their quest. In other words, to me the theatrical backdrop is way more majestic and interesting than the play itself. Terry Pratchett said it well: “Tolkien’s mountains have more personality than characters.” So I’ll bet that mine is far from the last Game that will be played in the Professor’s world. Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead – long live Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern!

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[User Picture]
From:likethemagician
Date:February 24th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)

Where Can the Lem Story Be Found?

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Sorry to post on minutiae but I am unfamiliar with the story or novel "Local Session" by Stanislaw Lem. Could you direct me to this text?
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From:ymarkov
Date:February 25th, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)

Re: Where Can the Lem Story Be Found?

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It is apparently better known as "Observation on the Spot" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observation_on_the_Spot
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From:hmoulding
Date:March 3rd, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Where Can the Lem Story Be Found?

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There's a German translation as "Lokaltermin."
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From:autoprocrustes
Date:February 25th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
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I hate to nitpick, but I am a huge "Dune" fan, and Dr. Yeskov might be interested to know that someone already has devoted "serious effort to analyzing the ecosystem of a barren desert populated by train-sized predatory worms that eat excavators and sweat psychedelics[.]" -- http://www.amazon.com/Science-Dune-Unauthorized-Exploration-Fictional/dp/1933771283/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1298599071&sr=8-1
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From:ymarkov
Date:February 25th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
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Well, that's not nitpicking.

Mind you, Dr. Yeskov wrote this essay in 2000, and the book you mention came out, so it seems, in 2008.

Or it just goes to show that you can't read all books :-)
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From:autoprocrustes
Date:February 25th, 2011 05:08 am (UTC)
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So true!

The implication I took was that "Dune" was somehow a less fascinating and intricate universe, a la "fantasy is fantasy," which I found to be condescending to the work. "Dune" is rich with implications for science, religion, and linguistics. See the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis!

I don't mean to harp, and I'm enjoying Dr. Yeskov's work. I just found the comment a little irksome.
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From:ymarkov
Date:February 25th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
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I understand. I liked "Dune" a lot, myself.
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From:hmoulding
Date:March 3rd, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)

Sandworms and such

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John Varley also made a very brief excursion to Dune in his Gaea Trilogy. He points out that a giant worm is likely to suffer from friction. It might move at a rate a few feet per hour, not much faster.
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From:old_sam
Date:December 2nd, 2012 05:11 am (UTC)
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If they vibrate their skin plates with high enough frequency, they would probably liquify the sand around their bodies and this would be a non-issue.

--
Cohen the Barbarian
From:me_jmmorgan
Date:February 25th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)

Currency

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What about the silver penny? Or am I missing something?
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From:ymarkov
Date:February 25th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Currency

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I think a penny is a generic term for 1/100th of a larger unit. Now, AFAIK, the mark, the guilder, the franc, and the pound sterling all used to be the same thing - one pound of pure silver - but they were different named currencies.
From:thejeebus
Date:February 26th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC)

Must Fantasy Be Stupid?

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I love fantasy novels, but often find myself asking this question.

Do you have any idea where (or if) I can find an English or German translation of this essay? I used google translate on the link provided, but the results were predictably incomprehensible. Slogging through in the meantime. Thanks!
From:mosinging1986
Date:March 1st, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
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I am here through various internet wanderings: I read THIS article and either here or in Part 2, someone in the comments mentioned 'The Last Ring-bearer'. I was interested, Googled it, and here I am.

I just wanted to comment on one portion of the essay and its assumptions. (And I realize you are the translator, not the original writer.)

And if the world of Middle Earth is real, then so are its people. If all those Aragorns and Faramirs are not “dramatis personae” but real people ...

then there can be a variety of opinions concerning their deeds.


The final bit of sentence is what I'm focusing on.

This is what troubles me about this entire endeavor. While there certainly may be a 'variety of opinions' concerning the deeds of the characters in LOTR, those opinions do not determine whether those deeds are morally right or morally wrong.

Some deeds are objectively right and others are objectively wrong, regardless of what anyone's opinion about them may be.

***

Tolkien adheres to this rule perfectly, which is why for many readers, especially older ones, LOTR has forever remained a kind of an American action movie – a bunch of good guys goes to wipe out a bunch of bad guys, who are bad if only because they are on the other side.

This bit is especially troubling, since it's a mangling of Tolkien's story and intent. Characters weren't determined good or bad only because of what side they are on. They are determined to be good or bad according to their actions.

***

While I take issue with the content, I do appreciate your efforts in translating the article.

Thank you.
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From:hmoulding
Date:March 3rd, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)

Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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I agree that we can judge the moral value of an act based on some particular set of criteria, but isn't it true that we first have to agree on that set of criteria? If we pick as our starting criteria some version of a religious ethic that places theistic commandments above all else, then we end up with a different set of values than if we pick criteria that place the well-being of people above all else. Or we might agree that well-being is most important, but then we would need to agree to what extent an individuals well-being must be sacrificed to a greater good.

These are not idle concerns for philosophers. It's how every group of people on the planet, now and in the past, has attempted to order their society.
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From:mosinging1986
Date:March 4th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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Morals need grounding in some sort of absolute. Otherwise, they are simply a preference made up by this or that person. Without God how can we even have moral categories called "good" or "evil" in the first place? Or, to use the specific word you used, "well-being". Without a transcendent standard, how do we even begin to know or decide what well-being even is? How can we even have such a term/idea?


These are not idle concerns for philosophers. It's how every group of people on the planet, now and in the past, has attempted to order their society.

I absolutely agree!
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From:hmoulding
Date:March 4th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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"Without God" is a meaningless thing to say, since any kind of "with God" involves intercession by human beings. In other words, with or without God, we are dealing with preferences decided on by people.

How do we decide what well-being is? Are you serious? Is it difficult for you to distinguish between slavery or freedom? Between pain and lack of pain? Between hunger and no hunger? Are you having a hard time deciding between ignorance and education?

The devil is in the details. But to suggest that without a sky-alien we cannot begin to grapple with the problem is so absurd that it beggars description.
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From:mosinging1986
Date:March 5th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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Without God" is a meaningless thing to say, since any kind of "with God" involves intercession by human beings. In other words, with or without God, we are dealing with preferences decided on by people.

Like I said before, if this is so, then upon what basis can we even think of or work in categories/ideas called "morals"/"morality"? Such a concept is, in effect, meaningless. It's only whatever someone thinks it is. There are then no rights for anyone, because any concept of rights is then an invented thing. It can easily be taken away from us depending on who is in charge.

How do we decide what well-being is? Is it difficult for you to distinguish between slavery or freedom? Between pain and lack of pain? Between hunger and no hunger? Are you having a hard time deciding between ignorance and education?

My view, which is a standard for morality based in something transcendent does have a basis for well-being, since it can't be taken away or changed based on the whims of individuals or societies. Your view, which is based on individuals or society does not have any way of defining what well-being even is. It can be changed on the whims of those individuals or societies. That is the entire point I am making here.

When you say well-being, what does that even mean? And who decides it? Dictators and tyrants all over the world decide "well-being" means them being in charge for a lifetime and doing whatever they choose with the nation's wealth, resources and population. If "good" and "evil" are something we make up, who is to tell them they are wrong? We can't even call anything good or bad, right or wrong, etc.

Are you serious?

I don't know if you're being rude here, but of course I am serious. You keep using concepts of well-being, right/wrong, good/evil, etc. but you have given no basis upon which to even make such distinctions.
[User Picture]
From:hmoulding
Date:March 5th, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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upon what basis can we even think of or work in categories/ideas called "morals"/"morality"?

I gather you missed the part where I said that, whether or not you believe in a deity, all morality is based on a consensus decided on by people. It doesn't matter if you think your rules are absolute, if you think your rules may never be rescinded, it all boils down to what people agree on.

I have to wonder if you're being serious, since you're apparently of the opinion that well-being is not a sufficiently objective measurement. Instead you'd prefer someone else's opinion. Best yet, someone else's opinion which includes opinions that are blatantly immoral - at least if I assume you're coming at this from the standard judeo-christian-islamic angle. I'm not familiar enough with other religions or theistic/deistic traditions to categorically say they also include blatantly immoral ideas.
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From:mosinging1986
Date:March 7th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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(Sorry for the multiple edits!)

Please do not ever equate Christianity or Judaism with Islam. They teach completely contradictory things. If you knew anything about the three, you'd know this. This sounds to me like someone who is just biased against the Judeo-Christian worldview, with no stated reason as to why.

I will leave you with this very short audio commentary from a program called Stand to Reason (www.str.org), which addresses this very topic in a much better way than I ever could. If you are serious about exploring the issue, then you'll give it a listen. If you're not, then you won't. Goodbye.

He does a quick introduction to the show, but he gets immediately to the issue:

http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/030611.mp3

Edited at 2011-03-07 07:32 pm (UTC)
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From:katsaris
Date:March 14th, 2011 01:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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"Please do not ever equate Christianity or Judaism with Islam. They teach completely contradictory things. "

Please tell me which religion says the following: "go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."
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Also tell me which religion says the following:
"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people."

That's Judaism, which says these things: If someone tries to lure you to another religion, you must kill them. You must also kill every man, woman and infant child of the Amalekites.

So are you claiming that Islam is saying something completely contradictory to this? That we need *not* kill them?

"If you knew anything about the three, you'd know this. "

If you knew anything about the three, you'd know that Islamic and Jewish texts are very close together in advocated morality, except that Judaism is even harder on other religions. Which makes sense as they arose in similar circumstances, desert peoples that conquered the territory of other nations.

Christianity is *slightly* different in its texts only because it wasn't a desert religion, but a religion effectively born from the underclass of the Roman Empire, and so it was forced to advocate patience and forgiveness instead of a "slay them all" mentality.
From:mosinging1986
Date:March 16th, 2011 05:01 am (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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You know zero about the Bible, zero about Christianity (or the Judaism which preceded it) and zero about Islam. You foolishly spout off verses without having a clue about what they mean.

Do you know anything about the Old vs. the New Testament?
Do you know anything about the OT laws, which were given to the Jews of that time, and what they were for?
Do you know the difference between retelling acts that happened at a certain point in time (and especially during wartime) and an open-ended command for people to obey?

If I had the slightest belief that you actually wanted to open-mindedly hear such information, I'd happily provide it. But my experience has been that most people don't have the slightest interest in actually learning something.

***

Neither Christianity nor Judaism have any open ended commands for believers to commit violence against unbelievers, or condoning such acts. Nor are there any Jews or Christians committing such acts on a regular basis, all around the world, in obedience to such commands.

The same is not true in Islam.

Your comments here demonstrate my original point. If you knew anything about these three religions, you would not be saying such woefully ignorant things.

Goodbye.
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From:katsaris
Date:March 16th, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)

Re: Moral Absolutes vs Moral Relativism

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I have more than 700 hours of Christian catechism under my belt, and atleast as many more studying the issue on my own, and all the nifty things they weren't willing to mention in official catechism.

And the commandment about slaying those who try to lure you to other gods is very clearly an open-ended commandment for Jews. It's in Deuteronomy, not a reference to a historical commandment that no longer applies.

"Neither Christianity nor Judaism have any open ended commands for believers to commit violence against unbelievers, or condoning such acts"

Judaism does have such a command. I quoted it to you. Now you are just denying the evidence of your own eyes.

"Nor are there any Jews or Christians committing such acts on a regular basis, "

That's because the Romans defeated the political power of Judaism, and the French Revolution (and its aftermatch) defeated the political power of Christianity. The Judaic and Christian religious establishments no longer have the *power* to commit such acts.

Before such time, heretics and unbelievers and blasphemers and the like were very regularly treated with extreme violence to the point of murder. From the murder of the Greek female mathematician Hypatia (who got her skin scoured off her flesh by a nice mob of Christians) to the slaughters of pagans during the time of the Byzantium, to the Spanish inquisition.

"If you knew anything about these three religions, you would not be saying such woefully ignorant things."

I know lots about all three of the religions, and their history, and their dogmas, both written and oral, and it's me who who has pesky facts on my side - and you have none on yours.

You are now just trying to use insults in the place of facts. I didn't insult you. You insult me.
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From:katsaris
Date:March 14th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
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I... disagree with pretty much everything you said.

Tolkien adheres to the black-white rule perfectly? What about Feanor? What about Turin Turambar? Even if you've not read the Silmarillion, what about Gollum or Denethor?

"does not presuppose that every bad guy be a priori treated as a fiend from Hell, which is what Tolkien consistently practiced."

This makes me doubt you've ever read Tolkien. Extreme *mercy* is always advocated towards bad guys: Gollum, Saruman, Grima, the good guys (Gandalf, Frodo, etc) treat these with consistent *mercy*, because they consistently argue that even *they* may be saved in the end.

Tolkien consistently beats you over the head with treating bad guys mercifully. Not as "a fiend from hell" -- unless you mean that even fiends from hell are treated mercifully (e.g. Morgoth being forgiven by Manwe, and Eonwe urging Sauron to return to Valinor for pardon, and the Elves being unwilling to torture even Orcs).
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From:katsaris
Date:March 14th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the translation btw, I understand you didn't write the thing yourself, are just translating it.
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From:ymarkov
Date:March 16th, 2011 12:09 am (UTC)
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This makes me doubt you've ever read Tolkien.

Dr. Yeskov says he's read the Silmarillion (and LOTR and Hobbit, of course). Therefore, his take on it has to be different from yours.
From:rpatters1
Date:September 29th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
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Your translation made the front page of Reddit recently, which is how I discovered it. I have been enjoying it thoroughly, and my hat is off to you. A mere thank you seems utterly inadequate, but fwiw Thank You! I just finished the "Spy Who Came in From the Cold" section (aka, "The Umbar Gambit) and found myself unable to put it down. What a brilliant idea to do a Le Carre piece set in Middle Earth.

I am particularly appreciative of the shifted points of view. Professor Tolkien's tale was very black & white, at least on the black side. That is to say, while "good guys" could certainly be corrupted, too many "bad guys" like orcs, trolls, balrogs, dragons, etc., were irredeemable, seemingly from birth. This leads (at least me) to the inevitable conclusion that the Professor's story is merely a point of view: possibly even a piece of propaganda. (The Professor himself said it was a legend told by Men about the Elves.) For me, The Last Ring Bearer is a brilliant take on the possibility that it is propaganda. Others will (obviously) feel differently.

I am not one to quibble about style in so generous an undertaking as this. However, merely in case you are not aware of them, I would like to mention that the text exhibits a couple of consistent grammatical errors with respect to the tense of the auxiliary verbs "have/had" and "will/would." These errors somewhat inhibit the smoothness of the reading experience at a syntactic level. It would not surprise me if others haven't already commented about it. One has the impression that the text was not written by a native speaker. (I can't deny that the errors also add to the charmingly Russian flavor of the book.) If you would like examples, I can provide them.
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From:ymarkov
Date:October 2nd, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
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Thank you for your kind words. No, I'm not a native speaker of English. Some grammatical errors have indeed been pointed out, and I've corrected them in the second edition (soon to be released). But I'd like a few examples to make sure I've covered all the ground.
From:rpatters1
Date:October 2nd, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
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The errors I note come almost exclusively in past-tense narrative. The first is when you need to use the past perfect to describe a prior action. An example in the book is the first line of Chapter 7. "The Mordorians only realized that they have been had when ..." In this sentence, their "being had" came before their "realization," so the auxiliary verb "to have" must be in past tense. The correct sentence is, "The Mordorians only realized that they had been had when ..." This error occurs consistently throughout the book, although it seems you may have already cleaned it up in early chapters, e.g., chapter 3.

It is possible to use the present perfect in a similar sentence, but it would be much more likely to occur in dialog than in narrative. I'll make one up: "The Mordorians realized we were on their left flank, but they have been had!" said Aragorn to Cheetah in the midst of the fray. In this example the "being had" comes after the realization. The present perfect also implies immediate recent past, which is another reason it is inappropriate in a past-tense narrative.

Similarly, when you want to talk about a possible future action in the context of a past tense narrative, you should use "would" rather than "will". From the book: "He suddenly realized with a clarity that amazed him that this one duel will determine the outcome not only of this battle..." The correct phrase is, "He suddenly realized with a clarity that amazed him that this one duel would determine the outcome not only of this battle..."

The salon.com reviewer dinged you for switching between past and present confusingly, and I would guess it was largely due to these two issues. There are some other places where it switches. For example (also Ch. 7):

"The general slammed the pommel with his fist – let the pain bring him back to the real world and banish all traces of this nightmare from his brain… No such luck. He is still standing at the edge of a burned-out depression on the Pelennor field, and his warriors, ever ready to follow him into fire and water, will break into flight at any moment, for this is simply beyond their ken! Without thinking any more, he thundered:..."

However, in this case there is no grammatical error. Now it is simply a question of style. (Note that "is" agrees with "will". If you changed "is" to "was" then you would have to change "will" to "would".) If I were translating this passage, I would refer to the original text. If the tense switches in the original text, then this passage is perfectly fine as-is.

I hope this helps.
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From:pocketlama
Date:July 17th, 2012 04:02 am (UTC)
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Applause and great thanks for your work in translating this and especially the work you did on The Last Ring Bearer. I just finished the book and am disappointed to have to put it down finally. I will not quibble with you about the style and tense problems as it seems that others have done so better than I could. Realizing that you are not a native English speaker makes your work all the more impressive.
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From:ymarkov
Date:July 20th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
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Thank you. Did you read the first or the second (somewhat corrected) edition?
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From:pocketlama
Date:July 20th, 2012 01:38 am (UTC)
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You know, after I made my comment I figured out that I probably read the first edition. Ah well, if I liked what you did so much before the new editing I'll bet I would like it even more now.
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From:morreth
Date:October 22nd, 2012 01:28 pm (UTC)
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This is something we’re quite familiar with in our own world: in alternative opinions Richard the IIIrd comes out a most noble man who had paid for his nobleness with both his crown and his head, plus posthumous reputation to boot, whereas Joanne of Arc turns out to have been a sadistic psychopath who belonged on that pyre like few others…

I am curious - since wheh good old Joanne is like this? She had changed over the summer?

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From:old_sam
Date:December 2nd, 2012 05:09 am (UTC)
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Would be really nice to translate Eskov's textbooks. They would bring a good diversity to the standard American biology and evolution study.

I always suffer from it - oh, there is that great science dude in Russia that writes these really cool books about evolution and history of Earth, way better than Dawkins, but, no, they haven't been translated. : (

And will someone translate "Visia localna" to English at last?!

--
Cohen the Barbarian
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From:Scott Vance
Date:October 29th, 2013 04:14 am (UTC)
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As to the currency question, the only reference I remember was the purchase of livestock in Bree for "silver pennies".Not quite a reference was in the Hobbit, of gold and silver, from the Troll hoard.

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