A few weeks ago I made two posts gearing up for an essay I'm writing on Boromir. Previous posts, for anyone still wanting to comment:
I'm actually making progress on the essay (which is good since the challenge it's for is due soon), but there's one more thing I want to talk about: how does what Tolkien write affect what you view as "real" Middle-earth?
I'm talking about the issue of canon. There are some details that are cut and dried, like the fact that Déagol originally found the ring, or that at the time of the Ring War Minas Tirith was the capital of Gondor – and if a fanfic story doesn't reflect that fact, we think of it as AU. But just what facts count as canon? As far as I can tell there are three main ways to approach this question.
- Canon reflects Tolkien's intent. So what he wrote is obviously canon, but so are applications of his biography, his letters and other things that had nothing to do with Middle-earth.
- Canon reflects Tolkien's words. So what he wrote in his books is canon, but anything beyond that is fair game.
- Canon reflects Tolkien's conceit. He said that Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were historical documents and historical documents often get things wrong.
So for instance an example of (1) would be to take Tolkien's letter #42 where he writes to his son (I believe Michael) about sex and respecting women, then to say a "good" character in Tolkien would basically live by similar principles and a "bad" character wouldn't (or would do the opposite). (2) would mean taking things written in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit at face value, and using them as your guide – but not feeling bound by anything outside those books (or Tolkien's drafts and other pseudo-canon written as tales about Middle-earth, if you like). (3) would mean interpreting those stories as one glimpse on a historical event, which might be open to interpretation.
(I'm skimming over the question of whether things like Unfinished Tales and The Silm are Tolkien's words. That doesn't mean you have to. But whatever you think on that, I am drawing a hard divide between Tolkien's writings that form the basis for Middle-earth, like his tales, and the secondary sources where he describes his works, like the letters where he answered reader's questions.)
Personally I tend to do (3) in my mind, but only use that mindset when writing if I have a good reason to. That's practical – if I'm changing what Tolkien wrote, I have to justify it, and often I prefer to dwell on different things. But I don't consider this AU in the same way I would if I ever got around to writing a Boromir!lives story.
What about you? Do any of these describe how you think about and write Tolkien's world? Or have you found another approach? And why do you take your approach (if you have reasons)? I'd also be interested in how your approach affects how you think about Boromir and sex, since that's what I'm writing about.
Have at it, guys! And thanks for all your help.