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Author Topic: Is Arwen pro-life?
Snuckles
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posted 27 February 2004 03:20 PM      Profile for Snuckles   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
The success of "The Lord of the Rings" has launched a war over Tolkien's politics, pitting pundit against pundit, and Viggo Mortensen against John Rhys-Davies.

Read it here.
Since this is Salon.com it will require you to either subscribe to read all of it; or to have your eyes forced open, like that dude in A Clockwork Orange, and made to watch a short ad in order to get a Free Day Pass to read the rest of the article, ;-)

[ 27 February 2004: Message edited by: Snuckles ]

[ 27 February 2004: Message edited by: Snuckles ]


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Debra
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posted 27 February 2004 07:36 PM      Profile for Debra   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Odious ad notwithstanding, the article is excellent.
From: The only difference between graffiti & philosophy is the word fuck... | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Agent 204
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posted 27 February 2004 08:29 PM      Profile for Agent 204   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It is indeed a good article. This line from Rhys-Davies is interesting:

quote:
"I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged, and if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization."

Oddly enough, I agree with him; it's just that I think one of the biggest challenges comes from the country whose behaviour he is trying to defend.


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Jingles
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posted 28 February 2004 12:33 AM      Profile for Jingles     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

As a hetero male fully secure in his masculinity, I state with confidence:

He's dreamy.


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Rufus Polson
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posted 28 February 2004 05:05 AM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, I've been meaning to write this essay for some time. Many leftists knock the Lord of the Rings because they perceive it as reactionary; I think they're dead wrong in important ways. There is a tendency for them to look at the surface of the book, and say: "Look, there's a king! Enough said." But this is misleading. In many ways, Lord of the Rings is an important book of progressive fiction.

Yes, there is a sense in which Tolkien was conservative--but it is pretty close to the sense in which the Zapatistas or similar indigenous/peasant movements, or the Slow Food movement, are conservative. That is, he values traditional, agrarian ways of life with some amenities but no more than are consistent with things staying fairly green and pollution-free. He values a relatively slow pace of life.

Despite their presence in the books, I don't think it's particularly clear that he values aristocracy that much, and certainly not the idea of obeying authority. Of course it's usually noted that the hero of the Lord of the Rings is an everyman figure, as are many of the other core characters, and that the actions of ordinary individuals, without any particular power, are repeatedly shown to be important. This is true not only in the actions of people like Frodo and Sam, but also in minor characters such as Fatty Bolger (who bought the main characters precious time at the risk of his life) or Barliman Butterbur the innkeeper.

But it goes beyond that; there is major pattern of disobedience to authority presented as positive and even essential (especially illegitimate authority, but even legitimate) running through the books. The first example I can think of offhand is at the Council of Elrond, where Sam, Merry and Pippin successfully get themselves into the Fellowship by sneaking into the meeting and obstinately refusing to go home. Their inclusion proves fateful, of course. Further on, when Gandalf first visits Theoden the gate guard is under orders to let in no weapons, but lets in Gandalf's staff, saying "The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age. Yet in doubt a man of worth wil trust to his own wisdom. I believe you are friends and folk worthy of honour, who have no evil purpose. You may go in." And indeed Gandalf's staff may be important in his renewal of Theoden.
This reliance on one's own judgment over the claims of authority seems a tendency in Rohan, and one treated positively. By contrast, when they arrive in Gondor, it is made clear that the culture is one of obedience, no matter what. This culture of obedience leads servants and guards to bring Faramir, still living, to the pyre with Denethor. Only Pippin's sensible refusal to follow deranged orders, and Beregond's outright rebellion, save Faramir's life.
Eowyn and Merry, told to stay behind, disobey and go to the battle anyway. Between them, they kill the Lord of the Nazgul.
Even basically foolish disobedience often works out for the best. Pippin's stealthy grabbing of the Palantir from Gandalf leads Sauron to think Saruman is holding halflings in Orthanc, distracting his attention from Mordor and creating a rift between Sauron and Saruman.
Of course, perhaps the most important disobedience (and one which shows the massive difference between obedience and loyalty) is Sam's refusal to let Frodo leave him behind when Frodo attempts to leave the Fellowship solo. Since Sam then repeatedly saves Frodo's life and generally keeps him going, it's kind of a good thing he wouldn't listen.
To round things off, how do the books end? With a revolution. The scouring of the Shire pits the good common folk of the Shire against amazingly capitalist-looking bosses. And the common folk, once they awaken to it, find themselves stronger than they ever dreamed.
When I say the bosses look awfully capitalist, I might also note that the bad guys seem to have used a local comprador class to buy up key parts of the local economy and convert it to export, to the detriment of local use. It fits the whole globalization/IMF thing; look at this description of the situation by farmer Cotton:
"He'd funny ideas, had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about. It soon came out that he already did own a sight more than was good for him; and he was always grabbing more, though where he got the money was a mystery (Rufus note: he got it from Saruman, apparently--a foreign capitalist type): mills and malt-houses and inns, and farms, and leaf-plantations . . . it seems he'd been selling a lot o' the best leaf, and sending it away quietly for a year or two. But at the end o' last year he began sending away loads of stuff, not only leaf. Things began to get short, and winter coming on, too. Folk got angry, but he had his answer. A lot of Men, ruffians mostly, came with great waggons, some to carry off the goods south-away, and others to stay . . . At first goods and damage was paid for by Pimple; but soon they began lording it around and taking what they wanted."
Sound anything like any South American, African or Caribbean countries any of us can think of?
I think there's a strong case to be made that Tolkien's sometimes-quoted comment about being if anything an "Anarchist, of the non-bomb-throwing kind" really does come out in his writing, despite the vaguely medieval-ish setting. And while that doesn't mean social anarchist in any formal way, it sure doesn't mean libertarian. He values fairly close-knit communities in which relatively little authority is exerted, and what authority there is is largely symbolic or a matter of leadership by individuals respected by the community.

Of course, he's clearly a proto-environmentalist, and the environmental movement drew on Tolkien from the beginning. Apparently the early Greenpeacers, in the first Rainbow Warrior, were clutching copies of Lord of the Rings as they sailed to save the whales.

Meanwhile, on the question of war and peace, I think it utterly clear that Tolkien would be with the peace movement today, and would be utterly appalled by both George Bush and Osama Bin Laden. It is clear that the wisest people in the Lord of the Rings are consistently rather pacifist in outlook. One of the core plot elements of the books is that the mercy Bilbo and, later, Frodo showed to Gollum, who probably deserved death and who it would have been far safer to kill, in the end saved the world. The early, unwise Frodo tells Gandalf it was a pity Bilbo hadn't killed Gollum when he had the chance; Gandalf's response is "Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and mercy, not to strike without need."
When Frodo says "He deserves death", Gandalf replies with one of the most eloquent anti-death-penalty statements that has ever been made: "Deserve it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it."
On another occasion, one of the wise comments "For myself, I pity even his slaves." (Sauron's, that is)
But the later Frodo, the Frodo who has made the shaman's journey and become wise, speaks more like Gandalf. When the hobbits are calling for the death of Saruman, Frodo says "But I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing."
Saruman then tries to knife Frodo. Frodo says "Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood . . . He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it."
I cannot see this sentiment condoning the behaviour of a George Bush.
I can't believe I've gone through this whole epistle without even mentioning the overriding theme of the Ring and the corruption of power. But it practically goes without saying, and has been gone into at length by many others.
One thing that many others have, I think, not really confronted is his attitude towards the conduct of World War II, as laid out in the foreword. This bit is often referred to, but since those mentioning it aren't radicals they tend only to talk about it as a refusal to accept connections between WW II and the books. But look at the cynicism expressed here about the behaviour of the great powers, a cynicism rarely expressed to this day outside far left circles, much less in 1966 when it was written:
"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-Earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."

Decode that a little bit. How scathing an indictment of both sides of the cold war is this? Tolkien might have got along with George Orwell surprisingly well.

Well, I doubt anyone will have read this far. I hope I've convinced somebody, because the routine belittling of Tolkien I frequently see in leftist circles pains me.


From: Caithnard College | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Debra
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posted 28 February 2004 09:06 AM      Profile for Debra   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
rufus that was great! thanks
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DonnyBGood
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posted 28 February 2004 11:14 AM      Profile for DonnyBGood     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yes, very well expressed Rufus.

However, how do you deal with the issue of race?

There are no noble African characters on the side of the "good guys". In the book I believe there were some but they were characterized as "primitives".

The problems I had with the movie were limited. I would like to see the book serialized in one hour episodes but I'm a bit of a die hard fan.

One thing that bothered me was the take on the Orcs and Sauron. I would have made the dark forces more "attractive" and the absolute villany the dark forces of tyrany less stark and comic bookish.

Another was the underplaying of the planitirs and their use...

In the book the planitir and the omniscience it gave the user was seen as a dangerous neutral power. Aragorn's major test was to see if he was able to use this power and make himself known wresting control from Sauron. This established the plot device of Sauron thinking that Aragorn would use the ring against him and diverting attention from the hobbits, bent on destroying it altogether.

It also illustrated the strange appeal fascism had in the thirties and the idea that even the best minds were swayed by the notions that "resistance was futile" and that human nature was itself a myth and a fantasy...


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Rufus Polson
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posted 28 February 2004 06:23 PM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
How do I deal with race?
Well, it's quite true that bad guys in the books are from elsewhere, the south and east. There are numerous occasions when some unpleasant character, say in Bree, is referred to as "sallow" or "swarthy".
That said, I really think the racial issue is way overplayed. This is a pre-modern setting, indeed a pre-modern setting in which trade has been in decline for some time, and written by someone with a gut-deep understanding of what that meant in terms of transportation. There's no way anyone from Harad is going to be hanging out in Rohan. That kind of stuff just didn't happen a whole lot. Frankly, to put in team members from the East beyond Mordor or the South would have required serious concern for political correctness. This was written in the thirties through forties.

It's also written as a sort of myth. Now--look at Arthurian myth. Or Norse myth. Or the French Roland cycle. Or First Nations myth, for that matter. All myths are about people from a locality; frequently they are not large enough in scale to even involve anybody who's different in any way. But when they do, if there are good and bad guys at all, they are always about good guys from here (and maybe a few treacherous bad guys from here), up against bad guys from somewhere else. You do not find myths with multicultural heroes--it just doesn't happen.

Given these constraints, the book is about as anti-racist as it can reasonably be. There is quite a bit of ado made of the estrangement and antagonism between those different races that mean something within the story--elves, dwarves, and men--and the importance of overcoming those differences and re-establishing friendships. And while all the elves, dwarves, and men--and hobbits--involved are white, on the other hand we're talking about completely different species.

Meanwhile, the Haradrim and Easterlings and Dunlanders, humans fighting on the bad guys' side, while clearly "other", are not portrayed as evil. Where their motivations are discussed, which isn't often, it is indicated that they were intimidated into joining up, fooled, and also handed the opportunity to settle scores with old enemies/rivals. The basis of those old rivalries is not discussed; it's not suggested who, if anyone, might have been on a right or wrong side.

One of the major premises of Sauron's power is that those who serve him have their wills somewhat altered while he's paying attention to them--he layers on a bit more hate, a bit more energy; they are energized by the force of his malice. When that force departs, they are left uncertain.

There are few clues to their motivations, but the few clues you get don't seem to indicate that the humans on Sauron's side are any different from anyone else. You get things like Sam's musing when he first sees a man killed in battle, who happens to be from Harad: "He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from: and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace"
The closest thing to a description of how the Haradrim and Easterlings thought was this bit when the good guys are winning the battle in front of Minas Tirith (which for any of you who have only seen the movies, was not won by Deus ex Machina ghosts): "Hard fighting and long labour they had still; for the Southrons were bold men and grim, and fierce in despair, and the Easterlings were strong and war-hardened and asked for no quarter."

So all we know about them, really, is that they were people of courage, tough when the battle went against them. We do know also that after the war Aragorn made peace with them and let the prisoners go (rather than, say, holding them in Guantanamo bay). We know that the men of Dunland were largely on the bad guys' side because of propaganda from Saruman; after they are defeated, the good guys treat them fairly well, and "The men of Dunland were amazed; for Saruman had told them that the men of Rohan were cruel and burned their captives alive."

Now orcs really are evil. But what are you gonna do? You either accept the basic premise of the books or you don't. Orcs are evil in the books because they were specially engineered by a satanic figure to be that way, and that is pretty much that. If you can't live with that kind of thing, don't read fantasy. Even there, there is pity for them expressed repeatedly, and it's clear from the occasional overheard conversation that while they are nasty, they'd really rather be off on their own doing a bit of small-time independent brigandage than buried in Sauron's big hierarchical war machine.

There are a few lines in the book which have a distinctly racist feel. But there are a number of others which have IMHO a rather more distinctly anti-racist feel. A pretty good tally for when the books were written, and for something intended in part to be a mythology for England.


From: Caithnard College | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Jesse Hoffman
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posted 28 February 2004 07:16 PM      Profile for Jesse Hoffman     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Excellent posts Rufus! I could not agree more with you. As someone who has read the book several times (and loved it each one), the anti-war statements the book expresses are quite clear to me.

Anyways that was an excellent article. I'm very dissapoined in John Rhys-Davies for trying to make the Lord of the Rings stand for something that it doesn't...


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beluga2
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posted 29 February 2004 03:03 AM      Profile for beluga2     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Indeed, excellent stuff, Rufus. Impressive Tolkien scholarship.

I don't have much to add, except to recommend that anyone interested in Tolkien's political beliefs peruse his Letters, where he makes plain his loathing for Hitler, Stalin and Anglo-American imperialism in the Far East. His reaction to Hiroshima is striking: a couple days after the bombing, he wrote contemptuously of "the utter folly of these lunatic physicists content to do such work for the purposes of war", describing the Bomb as "fighting Sauron with the Ring", and adding this:

quote:
Mordor is in our midst. And I regret to note that the billowing cloud recently pictured did not mark the fall of Barad-dr, but was produced by its allies or at least by persons who have decided to use the Ring for their own (of course most excellent) purposes.

Note the appropriate cynicism regarding the motives of "our" side, something you rarely find even today outside of the writings of people like Chomsky. Tolkien had utter contempt for the notion that evil acts, by whomever committed, can be justified in pursuit of some self-appointed, self-defined "greater good" (like, oh, say, fighting terrorism); still a radical notion, unfortunately, let alone sixty years ago.

I also find this quote (dealing with the use of the Machine, ie. technology, as a force for domination of others) quite striking in current geopolitical terms:

quote:
The Enemy in successive forms is always `naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others - speedily and according to the benefactor's own plans - is a recurrent motive."

Sounds like the PNAC's New American Century to me.


From: vancouvergrad, BCSSR | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged
Rufus Polson
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posted 29 February 2004 03:56 AM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by DonnyBGood:

There are no noble African characters on the side of the "good guys". In the book I believe there were some but they were characterized as "primitives".

One tiny note: There were some people who might have been African mentioned in one sentence during the battle in front of Minas Tirith, and it's a quite racist-sounding sentence all right. In fact, although I'd like to defend it by noting that the section it appears in is doing authorial voice tricks, making the narrative seem like an historical account written by a near-contemporary (Tolkien often uses the conceit of acting as if LoTR is a translation of something written at or close to the time of the events, although it's inconsistent; during much of "The battle of the Pelennor Fields" he's in full historical mode, which gives the battle a distance but also makes it feel like something that must have really happened)--as I say, although I'd like to defend it on the basis of being made to look like a description by some historian who'd never heard of such people, the sentence is by far the most racist one in the book; it refers to some reinforcements as "black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues". It's the only reference to anyone who might be African anywhere in the books.

There are primitives, but they are a different bunch, and they're white, although kind of funny looking--stumpy build and sort of potbellied. They're also good guys, although like the Ents, they aren't altogether on anybody's side because nobody is altogether on their side. They help the Rohirrim; in return the Rohirrim agree to stop hunting them down and to leave them in peace in their forest. Morally, they come off looking better than the mainstream "good guys" in the encounter.


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DonnyBGood
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posted 29 February 2004 12:24 PM      Profile for DonnyBGood     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I still think that the movie missed a critical aspect of LoR story. All who used the old powers became subject to the will of Sauron save Aragorn and the eldar.

I think if the movie made the orcs less hideous and more zombie-like-but-normal another dimension would have been added. But perhaps this was unnecessary as Rufus points out the orcs were genetically mutated elves. But then that leads to the entire question of whether or not evil is inate or conditioned.

Sauron was very pursuasive and compelling but this is never really explained nor is the reason why people do evil things addressed. Everyone must resist this compunction to do evil...

...but why does it exist in the first place?


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beluga2
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posted 29 February 2004 03:28 PM      Profile for beluga2     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Actually, in the book, Saruman's speech to Gandalf serves as a pretty good illustration of the kind of thinking that causes people to "do evil things":

quote:
The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which We must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see. ...

As the Power [Sauron] grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak and idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.


In other words, Saruman, and Sauron himself as well, presumably, see their ends as good (Knowledge! Order! Rational Government!), and their ugly methods therefore excusable, if "deplorable". This kind of "end-justifies-the-means" thinking is pervasive, not just in Middle-earth but in the real world too. I can see the above speech coming from the mouths of any number of violent, bloodstained scumbags, from Hitler to Pol Pot to Richard Perle, all of whom had constructed moral frameworks for themselves within which their vile actions were acceptable.

None of that necessarily comes thru in the movie, but such complexities are difficult to convey onscreen. Especially considering the odd fact that Sauron, the chief baddie, the title character of the whole trilogy, never actually appears in the books at all. Everything we know about him is "second-hand". Tolkien didn't make Peter Jackson's task any easier in that respect.


From: vancouvergrad, BCSSR | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged
Jacob Two-Two
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posted 29 February 2004 04:29 PM      Profile for Jacob Two-Two     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Actually, I read a number of reviews that lamented the lack of a central bad guy in the movies, and that they suffered for this, but to think this way is to entirely miss the point. Sauron is not the central bad guy, just a symbol for something, which is why we never encounter him. It would have been a huge mistake for Tolkien to bring him out of the shadows because then he would cease to be lurking on the edge of your consciousness, an undefined but perfect embodiment of evil. Sauron is not meant to be an opponent you can grab by the lapels and pummel into submission. He is the malice and will to dominate that lives in your own heart.

This is why the story is so enduring and unique, because of the temptation motif that is so strong in it, and the portrayal of the struggle between good and evil as an INTERNAL struggle, rather than an external one. In LOTR, the central bad guy is everybody. Not a single character is presented as so pure they are not subject to the tempation to become like Sauron himself (except Tom Bombadil, but I always thought he was ill-placed in LOTR). The ring just brings this conflict that is within us every day and makes it so big and huge that it acquires epic status, because if you lose that struggle, the whole world loses with you. It's very powerful.


From: There is but one Gord and Moolah is his profit | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 29 February 2004 04:46 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Fascinating thread. Very well-written and insightful.

I'll just follow up J22's post with the comment that at some point in LOTR, someone points out that even Sauron wasn't evil to begin with.


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Mandos
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posted 29 February 2004 04:51 PM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sauron is (distantly) personified in The Silmarillion as Melkor/Morgoth's lieutenant and later as the corruptor of Numenor. But he is cyclically killed in each episode involving him and reincarnated as something uglier every time. His last incarnation (the Eye) is the last possible, because every other characteristic has been stripped from him at each death.

Note, however, how Gandalf becomes more wondrous when he is reincarnated.


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DonnyBGood
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posted 29 February 2004 07:28 PM      Profile for DonnyBGood     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The original post was on the argument that Arwen was pro-life. I guess this is a tounge in cheek comment. On the other hand the entire story is about change, about the reality imposing on the eternal and everlasting worlds of myth and them being changed forever by events. Arwen's choice of life and change over immortality is in this sense progressive and liberated.

[ 29 February 2004: Message edited by: DonnyBGood ]


From: Toronto | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged

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