Monday, 7 August 2017

The Halls Of Mandos

This post is occasioned by comparing a passage in a volume of SM Stirling's Emberverse series with one in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

Do you believe in a hereafter? You are confident that, if you get into a plane going to London, then, barring accidents, you will arrive in London. Are you equally confident that, if you were to die now, then you would arrive in a hereafter? And, if so, which hereafter? Surely not one described in a work of fiction:

"...a long, long time in the Halls of Mandos."
-SM Stirling, Lord Of Mountains (New York, 2013), Chapter Five, p. 96.

I contrast this belief with Flandry's Prayer.

If a single, hand written copy of a diary, journal or Book of Shadows that no one else has read is burned to ashes, then the content of that document no longer exists. It is not recorded elsewhere and does not continue to exist in an immaterial realm. The author, if still alive, might remember some of what he wrote, might even have a photographic memory, but let us suppose that he has died before the book, locked in a safe and seen by no one else, is destroyed in a house fire. When a human brain ceases to function and, shortly afterwards, disintegrates, then surely its memories and sense of personal identity no longer exist? It is possible that they have been recorded elsewhere but that is a mere possibility and in any case would any recording last forever? Cosmically, entropy increases...

7 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And this is as good a place as any in which to mention a point which has puzzled me about one of Stirling's major characters: Astrid Larsson Loring. As every reader of the Emberverse series knows, Astrid was a more than passionate devotee of the works of JRR Tolkien, such as THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. So much so that she came to absolutely believe them to be not fictions but actual HISTORY. This absolute CONVICTION explains why Astrid believed in the literal truth of the hereafter seen in Tolkien's Middle Earth mythos.

But, I'm wandering from the point which puzzled me! My question is: since Astrid believed in the literal truth of Tolkien's works, why did S.M. Stirling show her as becoming a believer in Juniper Mackenzie's "Old" Religion, including belief in many "gods"? The theology we see in JRRT's major works was MONOTHEISTIC, not polytheistic. As we read in THE SILMARILLION, before anything existed, there was only the One, Eru Iluvatar, the sole God and Creator. And even the Valar were only angelic, created beings and servants of Iluvatar, not gods. So I thought it jarring and inconsistent of Stirling to show Astrid becoming a Wiccan.

JRR Tolkien took great pains to eliminate in his "finished" texts to eliminate any chance of him being thought favorable to polytheism. To such an extent that some readers are surprised to see how little religion can be found in THE LORD OF THE RINGS (it's there, if you look carefully, both in the main text and the appendices). But you have to go to THE SILMARILLION and certain other texts for an explication of the faith believed in by the Elves and Dunedain. Besides THE SILMARILLION I would include Tolkien's "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth," to be found in MORGOTH'S RING, Volume X of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE EARTH, ed. by Christopher Tolkien (1993). This important text is not only a discussion of the natures of Elves and men, but also of the religion of Middle Earth. We see Finrod's interlocutor, Andreth, revealing to him that some of her people believed that altho mankind had fallen, Iluvatar had not forgotten or rejected them. Rather, their belief was that somehow, in the remote future, Iluvatar Himself would personally act in Middle Earth to amend the marring of mankind wrought by Morgoth, the rebel Vala.

Considering the date on which MORGOTH'S RING was published, 1993, it's pretty safe to think Astrid would have pored over this book as passionately as she had the others mentioned. And all this should have inclined Astrid to remaining a monotheist at least, not becoming a polytheist and even becoming a Wiccan!

We even see some of the Rangers of her "neo-Dunedain" outfit, the Dunedain Rangers believing in the Valar (and perhaps Eru Iluvatar). I know this is not entirely implausible, given what Stirling has said about the "founder's effect" phenomenon.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I know my previous comment discussed points which were only of minor interest, but ones which has been in my mind as I reread Stirling's Emberverse series.

Unlike you, I don't believe the human personality does not survive the death of the body. I have found the arguments for the immortality of the soul from philosophy alone to be convincing. To explain, I'll quote from pages 413-14 of Fr. John A. Hardon's POCKET CATHOLIC DICTIONARY (Image/Doubleday: 1980, 1985): "SOUL. The spiritual immaterial part in human beings that animates. Though a substance in itself, the soul is naturally ordained toward a body, separated, it is an "incomplete" substance. The soul has no parts, it is therefore simple, but it is not without accidents. The faculties are its proper accidents. Every experience adds to its accidental form. It is individually created for each person by God and infused into the body at the time of human insemination. It is moreover created in respect to the body it will inform, so that the substance of bodily features and of mental characteristics insofar as they depend on organic functions is safeguarded. As a simple and spiritual substance, the soul cannot die. Yet it is not the total human nature, since a human person is composed of body animated by the soul. In philosophy, animals and plants are also said to have souls, which operate as sensitive and vegetative principles of life. Unlike the human spirit, these souls are perishable. The rational soul contains all the powers of the two other souls and is the origin of the sensitive and vegetative functions in the human being."

I know you don't believe Aristotelian/Scholastic philosophy to be true, but the arguments derived or taken from it makes more SENSE to me than any kind of materialism. Arguments which John Wright used to refute materialism on philosophical grounds alone at his blog.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I think that life requires complex chemistry, a source of energy and time for energised complex molecules to change at random. When one molecule becomes self-replicating, that is life. There is no need for a vegetative or sensitive soul to animate the molecule. Is it argued/believed that, if the soul were not infused, then the matter would remain inert? The matter is energised by solar or geothermal energy. Organisms become sensitive to environmental alterations and quantitatively increasing sensitivity is qualitatively transformed into sensation, the most basic form of consciousness. Thus, consciousness emerges from mass/energy and does not have to be imparted by a separately created soul.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Does the entire Catholic Church officially accept medieval scholastic philosophy or is that just one philosophical strand among Catholics?
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I certainly agree that life requires a complex chemistry, a source of energy and the time needed for complex molecules to become energized, change, become self replicating, etc. But that is merely evolution, which I don't believe to contradict ideas about vegetative, sensitive, or rational souls.

Chimps, apes, orangutans, etc., are very close GENETICALLY to the human race, but any comparison of them to humans immediately shows the former to be animals while the latter are not. So, I'm still not convinced "philosophical materialism" is true.

Yes, Scholastic philosophy is officially the philosophical framework used by the Catholic Church. To again quote from Fr. Hardon's invaluable CATHOLIC POCKET DICTIONARY (page 398): "Three periods of Scholasticism are commonly distinguished: medieval period (from St. Anselm to Jean Capreolus (1060-1440); Counter-Reformation or the Spanish-Portuguese Revival (1520-1640), declining after the rise of Protestantism and Cartesianism; and Neo-Scholasticism, officially recognized by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century to the present time."

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Though originally, Tolkien referred to the Valar as "Gods"; this was changed later.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

True, as we see in the early texts collected and commented on by Christopher Tolkien in THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE EARTH. But, Tolkien was a devout Catholic who later removed such polytheism from his later, more FINISHED texts. So, I still thought it somewhat jarring to see Astrid also becoming a Wiccan.

Sean