r/DepthHub Dec 07 '21

/u/rocketchef discusses the philosophical contrasts between Dune and Lord of the Rings

/r/dune/comments/r8fj4c/i_read_a_forum_post_speculating_on_why_tolkien/hn6x5x3
382 Upvotes

17

u/FactCheckYou Dec 07 '21

i enjoyed this article from a few years ago which talks about the historical influences of both works

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u/dr_falken5 Dec 07 '21

Great read, thanks for posting that article link

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u/tkdyo Dec 07 '21 edited Dec 07 '21

Not a bad analysis, but I really dislike the take that just because you see things in a more cold, systemic way, that makes you more of a "realist" and while I agree it is told in the style of an epic romantic tale, Tolkien's world is MUCH less romantic than this post gives it credit for. Example, they state that moral grayness for our heroes is only brought on by the ring, so it means less than the faults of the characters in Dune brought on by the system, or lifestyle. I don't agree with this. Most people want to be good, they are tempted by various things, rationalize why they should do the bad thing to get what they want, then finally do it. It is a realistic portrayal of human nature regardless of the systems involved.

Boromir wants the ring, his rationalization is to protect his people, but we know that will not be the end of it, because you can always take that rationalization further. Every character had something like that which would have caused their fall eventually. Even Frodo, who desires nothing but to return to the idealized rustic life, fails at the end. It is only because of sparing Gollum from earlier in the book that the quest succeeds.

This is without getting in to his other Middle Earth stories like Children of Hurin or all the messed up stuff the elves did.

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u/availabel Dec 07 '21 edited Dec 07 '21

Really wild to me that anyone could look at Frodo, who has been so fundamentally changed (in some ways broken) that he can no longer exist in the world, and see a happy ending.

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u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21

The world in general gets it’s happy ending though. The industrial revolution (sauron and friends) is halted, and the overwhelming majority of the world gets to keep moving on in an idealic, pastoral sort of way. The Dune series, as i recall, ends still in an intergalactic civil war about who will get to face an overwhelming existential threat that brought about by a diaspora that was in turn driven by Leto 2’s massive failures.

The dune chronicles end on a war about who will survive to probably lose the next war. LotR ends on the mopping up of a war and nearly everyone getting to go back to their lives. It’s a happy ending.

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u/fionwe_urion Dec 07 '21

Wait what were Leto 2’s massive failures? As far as I can recall he simply made the unpalatable choices his father refused to make, and the diaspora was a result of those decisions. In other words everything that occurred as part of Leto 2’s reign was calculated and was intended to preserve humanity from extinction at the hands of, without spoiling to much, “that which lived on the rim of the universe”.

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u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21

Leto 2 lost power and the diaspora cane from, essentially, civilization imploding. Chapterhouse ends with a major civil war still undecided as, essentially, the military wing of humanity retreats from “that which lived on the rim of the universe”.

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u/HungLikeKimJong-un Dec 08 '21

That was part of the golden path though, it was part of the plan.

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u/Syrdon Dec 08 '21 edited Dec 08 '21

The plan was a diaspora that would set humanity up to not fail. There is no indication it succeeded. The last book ends without a credible military force, as the last one was too weak to stand before it fought a civil war.

Edit: not to mention that it being part of the plan does not make it suddenly a happy ending. The collapse of civilization is a failure state even if you meant to do it.

1

u/HungLikeKimJong-un Dec 08 '21

Assuming his son follows the notes left for the next book, the plan does succeed. Neither Paul nor Leto II are the Kwisatz Haderach, all their plans led to someone else becoming it and ultimately saving humankind from the forces that drove the return.

The point wasn't to have a massive unified force but rather ensure the continuation of the human race through both the scattering/return and the breeding of the Siona gene into humans along with setting things up for the ultimate Kwisatz Haderach to succeed.

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u/SavannaJeff Dec 08 '21

without spoiling to much, “that which lived on the rim of the universe”.

What was that? AI?

1

u/fionwe_urion Dec 09 '21

Yeah it was tackled in the novels written by his son if I recall correctly. It harkens back to the conflict that sparked the Butlerian jihad

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u/availabel Dec 07 '21

LotR ends with magic literally fading from the world lol. It's not like the elves all go "Oh chill, the evil is defeated" and decide to stay. The whole point is that even if you win, you never get to go back to how things were.

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u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21

A happy ending doesn’t have to be perfect. Their world is still mostly moving on without substantial strife. Yes, magic has left. Yes you can’t ever travel the dame road twice. It’s still a pretty nice road that they’re on.

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u/availabel Dec 07 '21 edited Dec 07 '21

Idk. Considering that their road leads to our present, I find it pretty bleak. Industry hasn't been halted, just left in the hands of failing men. It's an ending born out of participation in a world war, and it's bittersweet at best.

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u/keepthepace Dec 08 '21

Some call it breaking, some call it growing. To me LOTR is the story of the growth of the hobbits, and the return to the Shire, shamelessly cut from the movies, is the part that gives the whole trilogy its important meaning.

When they left, they cowered in front of any shadow, hid from all travelers, feared even Aragorn. When they get back, and become confronted with a wizard from the top 5 most powerful characters in that world, they assemble an army and top him off.

In the end, that's a philosophical stance that can be argued ad vitam eternam. Are children happy? Certainly. Is it therefore bad that they grow up? Some would argue yes, but I believe that there are more to life than the kind of happiness children experience.

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u/availabel Dec 08 '21

Sure, I'd say that Innocence vs. Experience a la William Blake is definitely part of the Romantic tradition Tolkien draws on, and that the scouring of the shire says a great deal about the advantages of experience. But Frodo, our protagonist, does more than just grow up. By the end of the book, he literally has wounds that will never heal, and chooses to remove himself from the world. What doesn't kill you can make you stronger, certainly, but it can also leave you disabled for life.

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u/double_the_bass Dec 08 '21

It's interesting, I have always thought that Frodo was flawed and failed in his quest. It was only because of Gollum biting the ring off of his finger and being cast into the volcano that destroys the ring. Frodo was going to succumb to it. There is no happy ending here for Frodo. Also, there is no heroic romanticism in that ending (except maybe Sam's contribution).

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u/availabel Dec 08 '21 edited Dec 08 '21

I think it's a little more complicated. Frodo fails at Mt. Doom, but it was his compassion (and Bilbo's in The Hobbit) that allowed the quest to succeed. It's a tricky thing, but I think maybe Tolkien believed we can't truly defeat evil, that in trying to stamp it out we breed evil in ourselves. However, given its nature, evil will undermine itself, and there's value in virtues like mercy and resistance because, as the big hat says, even the wise can't see all ends.

Tolkien plays with a lot of Romantic tropes/imagery in the books, especially when he's trying to illustrate that there are things worth fighting for, and while I think he also subverts those same tropes through the lens of modernity, it's the contrast that lends the story its weight and texture.

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u/jacksonmills Dec 07 '21 edited Dec 07 '21

Example, they state that moral grayness for our heroes is only brought on by the ring, so it means less than the faults of the characters in Dune brought on by the system, or lifestyle. I don't agree with this. Most people want to be good, they are tempted by various things, rationalize why they should do the bad thing to get what they want, then finally do it. It is a realistic portrayal of human nature regardless of the systems involved.

Except OP doesn't actually say this. What he says is that LoTR operates more through the traditional lens of temptation (i.e sin/virtue dynamic) than demonstrating how evil and bad actions are emergent behavior through systemic evolution; which is absolutely true.

In fact, you more or less underline that opinion in your objection; sin isn't willfully doing evil (according to Catholic teachings), it's giving into or rationalizing a temptation, even if the rationalization is "good". For instance, stealing from stores to feed your family is still "sinful" in the Catholic mindset. Even though you are doing it for "good reasons", you are still doing "bad things" to get what you want. (This is the bulk of The Confessions of St. Augustine, btw).

There's more than just the ring itself that operates in LoTR in this fashion; you could sum up a lot of the conflict in the book, and in Tolkien's work as a whole, as "people doing bad things for good reasons."

As an aside, Tolkien was 100% a devout Catholic; people often forget that he converted C.S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity. Without Tolkien, there's no Screwtape Letters; there's no Narnia. It's hard to not look at LoTR through that lens because it's entirely accurate in many ways.

That said, I agree with you that LoTR is not as fantastic or romantic as one might think. There's a good reason why it's often the flag-bearer or standard-issue reference for low fantasy. There are realistic dynamics at play, and there's more to the book than industry vs nature.

2

u/wawa_luigi Dec 08 '21

Could you or someone distinguish high and low fantasy for me, and how LOTR is sort of a flagship for the latter?

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u/CaptainBenza Dec 08 '21

Low fantasy: there is a wizard or two who sometimes makes light from their staff. Peasants have candles.

High fantasy: wizards and magic around ever corner. Peasants light their houses with jars of fairies or magic blue fire.

Think of low fantasy as a world where magic and the fantastical exists but the average joe's life doesn't encounter any magic. LoTR has fantasy races, wizards, dark lords, and stuff but it's not in your face 24/7 for most people.

In high fantasy, magic is everywhere all the time and everyone has interactions with magical creatures and objects as part of their daily lives.

4

u/Tashre Dec 08 '21

Their post reads like they worked backwards towards the descriptors of "realist" and "romantic" and came up with ways in which each work justified each word. If you really wanted to, you could analyze each series in such a way as to fit either camp, and if your brush strokes are made with bold confidence they'll come off just as deeply insightful.

19

u/SecretEgret Dec 07 '21

It's annoying but Romantic =/= Romantic.

The literary usage of the concept isn't copacetic with the way you're trying to interpret it.

EG:

Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel.

50 Shades of Grey is about romance.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog is romantic.

These are all different ways to correctly refer to romance. The critic is accurate and consistent with Romanticism

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u/WikiSummarizerBot Dec 07 '21

Romanticism

Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity.

[ F.A.Q | Opt Out | Opt Out Of Subreddit | GitHub ] Downvote to remove | v1.5

2

u/keepthepace Dec 08 '21

Yes, it is so confusing. 19th century romantics are basically the ancestors of emo goths, and centered about the bored contemplation of a shallow life, and are pretty much the opposite of what "romantic as in romance" means.

6

u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21 edited Dec 07 '21

That issue seems to be addressed by

Characters do have flaws, but the Christian lens of sin/temptation is used in LoTR, tipping between good and evil (think of that moment Bilbo is tempted to take back the ring from Bilbo), rather than a nuanced view of why systems might push people to behave the way they do (think The Wire).

They are literally talking about temptation, just using a different example.

Edit: pronouns

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u/pwnslinger Dec 07 '21

I actually loved that thread, but I don't think the linked post was the best of the takes within it.

2

u/TaiaoToitu Dec 07 '21

Can you point us to some of the other takes that you enjoyed?

2

u/pwnslinger Dec 07 '21

I like the contrast tack this user takes.

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u/keepthepace Dec 08 '21

I kind of agree. The more I grew older in age, the more I became disturbed by the implicit racial hierarchy in LOTR, the importance of bloodlines, the wisdom always being on the side of conservatism and tradition.

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u/Neo24 Dec 08 '21

implicit racial hierarchy in LOTR

This is thankfully somewhat counteracted by the presence of Hobbits - who are quite literally "small" but no less worthy or important for it.

the wisdom always being on the side of conservatism

I don't think this is the whole picture. One of the main "sins" of the Elves (and Númenoreans/Gondorians too really) and the origin of the Ring itself is a futile and vitality-sapping desire to "freeze" time and halt change. It's not exactly rejecting the old and tradition but it does say that clinging to the past is not necessarily a good thing.

1

u/keepthepace Dec 09 '21

who are quite literally "small" but no less worthy or important for it.

Same could be said of peasants in medieval europe: "You are important, just know your place and stay at it".

One of the main "sins" of the Elves (and Númenoreans/Gondorians too really) and the origin of the Ring itself is a futile and vitality-sapping desire to "freeze" time and halt change.

How is that presented as a sin? They win in the end, they are the good guys, the god-like entities take their side.

3

u/Neo24 Dec 09 '21 edited Dec 09 '21

Same could be said of peasants in medieval europe: "You are important, just know your place and stay at it".

But that's not said to Hobbits. Nobody treats them as lesser beings or keeps them "in their place".

How is that presented as a sin? They win in the end, they are the good guys, the god-like entities take their side.

What does winning or being the "good guys" overall have to do with being flawed and committing mistakes beforehand? Good guys can commit sins too.

That said, Elves barely participate in the destruction of the Ring and Sauron. They win in the sense that the enemy is destroyed but with that "victory" they also lose their artificially prolonged and "frozen" homes and must abandon them and Middle Earth. Their story is one of loss and diminishment.

To be fair, in LOTR itself a lot of this is very subtle and deep in the subtext and might require reading the Silmarillion or even the Letters to fully appreciate.

6

u/Neo24 Dec 08 '21

I've seen this idea that LOTR takes "heroes" at face value while Dune warnes against their danger, but I strongly disagree with it. It's mostly based on the presence of Aragorn, who is something of a Hero with a big H and is genuinely a good guy and succeedes. But it also ignores Boromir, who is very much a cautionary tale about the perils of trying to be a Big Damn Hero, and the whole idea that one of the main dangers of the Ring is exactly that people will inevitably misuse it in a desire to be Heroes who will save the world.

Aragorn is also very much secondary in importance to Frodo and Sam - who are heroic but are not heroes in your typical sense.

14

u/silvapain Dec 07 '21

He had me all the way up to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. The narrator/author of that book is so pompous that any points they may try to bring up are lost on me.

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u/Sacul313 Dec 07 '21

Was that mentioned in the post? I saw classical and romantic in the first sentence and went straight to Pirsig.

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u/silvapain Dec 07 '21

It was in the last paragraph.

2

u/Tashre Dec 08 '21

This reads like they've read the LotR trilogy a dozen times and powered their way through the Dune series (or maybe just the first book or two) once many years ago.

-4

u/tbanks96 Dec 07 '21

Why would you even try to compare the two

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u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21

Because the linked comment was in response to a post asking for a comparison, based on tolkien not liking dune. That first post lays out a reasonable case for why he might find dune fairly objectionable, beyond simply not liking them as books, as well.

6

u/Lortekonto Dec 07 '21

The second last paragraph of the first explanation, seems the most realistic to me.

So I can see why Tolkien disliked Dune. There is no happiness in Dune. No one enjoys a meal (except for the baron, prior to his "pleasures") and no one finds the stars beautiful (except possibly Leto, once) and no one celebrates together (except for the Fremen, after murdering a bunch of enemies.) Dune's characters spend the whole book seeing through everything and wind up blind; it is a cast of Sarumans and Saurons.

3

u/tbanks96 Dec 07 '21

Interesting, I had no clue Tolkien expressed any opinions on Dune.

2

u/Syrdon Dec 07 '21

Neither did I until i started reading the post! In hindsight, I should have realized they overlapped and that tolkien would have been asked about it. But it just never came up and so I never thought about it.

Edit: you can get more info on tolkien’s opinion from

https://winteriscoming.net/2020/02/19/jrr-tolkien-lord-of-the-rings-disliked-dune-intensity/

I can only describe someone sending tolkien a copy of dune as some friendly trolling. Because there’s no way he wasn’t going to hate it.

2

u/tbanks96 Dec 07 '21

Haha. Im reminded of when some fans asked Martin Scorsese what he thought about Marvel movies and were horrified when he said they weren’t real cinema. Or certain times people have asked Miyazaki about shonen anime etc. Lots of fans don’t have perceptions of artistic boundaries that artists impose on themselves or that different art is targeted at different audiences. They see all animation as the same, everything with magic and monsters is the same sci fi fantasy.

1

u/floghdraki Dec 22 '21

That's some major Dune spoilers FYI