Tim Boucher

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Sub-Creation Is Always “Derivative”

Having recently read Tolkien’s ‘famous’ (to weirdos, anyway) essay, “On Fairy Stories,” and now working my way through The Silmarillion – all while working on my own creative projects – has given me an improved intuitive understanding of his whole concept of sub-creation. I don’t want to get distracted by the shiny widgets of a Google search for the choicest Tolkien quotes from that essay, so I will leave that part of the quest to the reader.

Without putting words into his mouth, I think he believed there was only one ultimate “Creator” – whether we call it ‘God’ or ‘Iluvatar.’ I’ll call him Iluvatar, cause that speaks to me more (more, I should say than terminology linked to so-called “religious orders” putting one another into sexual slavery – but that’s just me//sorry got off-track here). And then like… the sub-creator is… I don’t really know really – one who undertakes the creative process? That sounds approximately right. That in and of itself, without resorting to esoteric considerations related to a supposed mystical ‘godhead’ is good enough, I think – hard enough as its own nuts and bolts thing. Whether that’s expressed in the Silmarillion as, uh, that smith Valar (Aiwe? it’s so hard to remember their names or where to put the umlauts [or how to type those ascii characters, for that matter]- but I love that) sub-creatively making the dwarves, or the writer who tries to put thoughts and feelings and impressions into a fixed narrative form, I think Tolkien might say that the “true” version of Creation-with-a-capital-C… like which comes from, and transmits, and inspires in the hearer “Truth” with-a-capital-T… that this type of creative act can only exist insofar as it ‘truthfully’ partakes of that original capital-T-Truth, and lives and has life in that same being. This partaking maybe then is the sub-creative act.

It’s been a few days since I read it, and I haven’t passed my Basic Loremaster Certification Exam [tm] yet, but IIRC, when Iluvatar finds out that Aiwe (?) (or whomever) made the dwarves, eventually he decides that it’s fine because it all comes from him in the first place, and nothing can happen that hasn’t first been envisioned by him in the song. Something like that. It’s better as a memory than as a Google search. I think he just doesn’t want to be upstaged, because the dwarves were gonna be ready earlier than he himself had expected.

So that’s my rambling take on what I think he meant. And there’s something around when people use the word “derivative” to describe creative works. The term is generally used pejoratively. Like your work shouldn’t communicate with anything outside itself, shouldn’t participate in other shards of the Truth existing outside and above itself. It’s a point of view which seems pretty counter to my take on Tolkien’s ideas about sub-creation. I think he was a kind of copyist, and probably would himself have admitted that – maybe something in the way of a worker in some Universal Scriptorium of Tales. I read the Volsung Saga. I saw the shadows of Gandalf in Odin. When your eyes know what to look for, it becomes possible to see it everywhere in other related, older works.

I’ve come to think of it in another way, almost like channeling. There is a Source. (You can call it Illuvator, or Consciousness, or the Ground of Being, or whatever.) And there is a Signal. The Signal is being transmitted omni-directionally from the Source. You can tune into it, make yourself into varying degrees of receiver. And you can try to re-transmit it, and pass it on, live in its same essence (Tolkien, in that essay I think says something about the ‘soup of stories’?). This is sub-creation, and it’s necessarily derivative. The truth of the channel can be told by the fidelity of its re-transmitted signal from source. Signals of two or more channels re-transmitting from same ultimate source are always going to resemble each other. And this is part of the beauty and the worth of folk-tale and myth, and humbling yourself before it.

But I was high when I wrote this, so… you never know.
–San Rafael ’71 Purple Chitral

Greek Rhapsodes

“Often, rhapsodes are depicted in Greek art, wearing their signature cloak and carrying a staff. This equipment is also characteristic of travellers in general, implying that rhapsodes were itinerant performers, moving from town to town. […]

The word rhapsōidos was in use as early as Pindar (522–443 BC), who implies two different explanations of it, “singer of stitched verse”, and “singer with the staff”. Of these the first is etymologically correct; the second was suggested by the fact, for which there is early evidence, that the singer was accustomed to hold a staff (ῥάβδος rhabdos) in his hand, perhaps, like the sceptre in the Homeric assembly, as a symbol of the right to a hearing or to “emphasize the rhythm or to give grandeur to their gestures”.

There was, however, certainly a profession of aoidos. Eumaeus, a character in the Odyssey, says that singers (aoidoi), healers, seers and craftsmen are likely to be welcomed as guests, while beggars are not;

Japanese Biwa Hoshi “Lute Priests”

“…also known as “lute priests”, were travelling performers in the era of Japanese history preceding the Meiji period. They earned their income by reciting vocal literature to the accompaniment of biwa music. Often blind, they adopted the shaved heads and robes common to Buddhist monks. […]

Religion in Japan at the time incorporated many native animistic (Shinto) beliefs into its Buddhist theological framework, leading many court nobles and religious leaders to worry about angry Taira spirits disrupting the peace.”

Chinese Imperial Music Bureau

“The earliest mentions of a government office of music or at least an official in charge of music or a department of music is found in Chinese mythology. Huang Di is claimed to have appointed a Governor of Music, named Ling Lun.[1] As Governor of Music, Linglun seems to have been charged with designing and overseeing the production of actual instruments, as well as the development of the musical scale. Emperor Shun is said to have founded a Ministry of Music, to which he appointed a Minister Kui to head. The main purpose of this institution was to teach the heirs apparent proper conduct and harmony (in both sense of the word), and as such it served as a mythological model for both the future Music Bureau and the imperial education system.”

Kobzar Guilds (Ukraine)

“In Ukraine, kobzars organized themselves into regional guilds or brotherhoods, known as tsekhs. They developed a system of rigorous apprenticeships (usually three years in length) before undergoing the first set of open examinations in order to become a kobzar.

These guilds were thought to have been modelled on the Orthodox Church brotherhoods as each guild was associated with a specific church. These guilds then would take care of one church icon or purchase new religious ornaments for their affiliated church (Kononenko, p. 568–9). The Orthodox Church however was often suspicious of and occasionally even hostile to kobzars.”

“Blind itinerant musicians, known as kobzars and lirnyks, organized themselves into guilds along the same lines as professional craftsmen. These professional itinerant musicians would gather at regular meeting spots on particular dates to celebrate religious feasts, administer examinations for the induction of novices and masters, and collect money for placement of votive candles under icons of patron saints and to also discuss the business of the guild. “

“However, the lirnyk played the lira, a kind of crank-driven hurdy-gurdy, while the kobzars played the lute-like banduras. Lirnyky were usually blind or had some major disability. They were active in all areas of Ukraine from (at least) the 17th century on. “

See also:

West African Masquerade

Nigeria, video example:

“One of the functions of these clown masquerade dancers is to distract the audience from more serious things that may be occurring at a nearby location; for example, more serious masquerade dancing in which the dancers are said to be possessed by spirits-often very powerful spirits that should not be seen by anyone who has not been initiated.”

Burkina Faso, example:

Orchard wassailing

“The orchard-visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.”

Video examples:

“In English folklore, the Apple Tree Man is the name given to the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard,[1] and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside.[2] Tales about the Apple Tree Man were collected by the folklorist Ruth Tongue in the cider producing county of Somerset.”

Courir de Mardi Gras

“These traditions originated in a time when most of the land and money was held by the upper classes. The poor, at the end of long winters and short on food, would gather in groups and make their way from castle to manor house to beg for food from the wealthy, dancing and singing in return for the generosity of the nobles.”

Pillar-dwellers (Stylites)

“When the monastic Elders living in the desert heard about Simeon, who had chosen a new and strange form of asceticism, they wanted to test him to determine whether his extreme feats were founded in humility or pride. They decided to order Simeon under obedience to come down from the pillar. They decided that if he disobeyed, they would forcibly drag him to the ground, but if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. St Simeon displayed complete obedience and humility, and the monks told him to stay where he was.”

Entered Musicians of the House of Silence

Upon reaching a certain level of devotion, a master minstrel may elect to join the House of Silence. Through the completion of an elaborate ordeal which tests both their skill and character, they may be admitted by their Elders as an Entered Musician of the House of Silence. Entered Musicians join the Silent Orchestra which holds deeply moving quiet concerts free and open to the public year round.

A must see while visiting Quatria.

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