Essays and Criticism
Tolkien's Treatment of Women
Tolkien has been accused of being perfunctory in his treatment of his female characters and excused as being merely a man of his times. Looking closely at the characters in Lord of the Rings, however, it could be argued that Tolkien returned to possibilities for female participation which the epic traditionally afforded, but which were long overlooked in criticism. Tolkien's own relationships with women were obviously largely a product of his time. The early death of his mother, his marriage to a woman who was uncomfortable in Oxford intellectual circles, and the attitude of C. S. Lewis whose misogyny was only overcome by a late marriage, all affected Tolkien. It is wrong, however, that it always affected him for the worse. Tolkien had been a student of Joseph Wright, the philologist who had married a former student. She not only worked alongside her husband, but made Tolkien and many other students comfortably at home. His final scholarly collaborator was a woman, Simone d'Ardenne, a former student who became a professor at Liege. This promising collaboration, thwarted in part by the World War II only ended because of his increasing involvement with his fiction.
"My friend ... you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father,...
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Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring
The death of Gandalf is a moment of transcendent heroism in The Fellowship of the Ring, yet Celeborn, reflecting on it later, remarks, "And if it were possible, one would say that at last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria". An understanding of the strongly overdetermined etymology of Moria helps to clarify the significance of Gandalf's death and the question of his fate and folly. Moria's roots would have to include mors (Latin for death), as well as Moira (Greek for fate) and moria (Greek for madness, late Latin for folly). Celeborn's remark unwittingly stresses the thematic linkage of fate (Moira) or "net" (a frequent image for fate) and folly (moria). The drumbeats that sound within the earth before and after Gandalf's death seem to stress fate: "doom, doom". It is, however, also possible to see, as Celeborn does, Gandalf's death as perhaps foolish or unnecessary, as his fall at the Bridge of Khazad-dum (emphasis supplied) may imply. But is Gandalf's leading the company into Moria, where he dies, as foolish as Celeborn implies?
In fact, far from "going needlessly" into Moria, Gandalf first considers other tactical options and even tries one--the ascent of Caradhras--as an alternative to the underworld journey. To go around the mountains would endanger the quest by prolonging it and open the company to further...
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'Traveling the one road': The Lord of the Rings as a….
J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a massive epic fantasy of more than a half-million words. It is also a hugely complex work, with its own complicated chronology, cosmogony, geography, nomenclature and multiple languages, including two forms of elvish. The plot is so grand, moreover, that it casts backward to the formation of first things while glancing forward to the end of time. How did this huge and learned work—written by an obscure Oxford philologist—become a classic?
The answer has to do with Tolkien's central characters. They are humanoid creatures called hobbits, and their unlikely hero has the unheroic name of Frodo. During the 1960s, so many American youths were drawn to these diminutive creatures that Tolkien became something of a cult figure. "Frodo Lives" was a popular graffito of the time. T-shirts declared that "Tolkien is Hobbit-Forming." No doubt there was something escapist about this hobbit-habit. Perplexed by our nation's carnage in Vietnam and by the ultimate threat of a nuclear inferno, a whole generation of young Americans could lose themselves and their troubles in the intricacies of this triple-decker epic. Indeed, the rumor got about—a wish seeking its fulfillment, no doubt—that Tolkien had composed The Lord of the Rings under the influence of drugs.
Yet The Lord of the Rings has outlasted its cult status. Repeated readings do not exhaust its potential to deepen and define our...
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The Road to Middle Earth
The gist of what has been said in this chapter is that The Lord of the Rings possesses unusual cultural depth. 'Culture' is not a word Tolkien used much; it changed meaning sharply during his lifetime, and not in a direction he approved. Still, one can see a deep understanding of its modern meaning of 'the whole complex of learned behaviour….. the material possessions, the language and other symbolism, of some body of people' in chapter 2 of Book II of The Fellowship of the Ring. This marks a jump-off point for the characters, whose objective is disclosed within it. It was also I suspect a jump-off point for Tolkien, since after that he was no longer writing his way through landscapes he had travelled before. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that as with the house of Beorn in The Hobbit 'The Council of Elrond' should provide a sudden introduction to archaic and heroic worlds confronting and overwhelming modern, practical ones. The later work is, however, many degrees more complex than its earlier analogue, being indeed an interweaving of at least six major voices besides minor ones and reported ones; as well as telling a complex tale in complex fashion what all these voices do is present, in our language, a violent 'culture-clash'.
This comes out most in the speeches and scripts impacted inside Gandalf's monologue of pages 269-78,...
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