The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
The following entry presents criticism on Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-55).
A leading philologist of his day, Tolkien was an Oxford University professor who, along with Oxford colleagues C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams, helped revive popular interest in the medieval romance and the fantastic tale. Tolkien is best known for his epic fantasy/romance trilogy of novels, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien gained a reputation during the 1960s and 1970s as a cult figure among youths disillusioned with war and the technological age; his continuing popularity evidences his ability to evoke the oppressive realities of modern life while drawing audiences into a fantasy world. Many critics claim that the success of Tolkien's trilogy has made possible the contemporary revival of “sword and sorcery” literature.
Plot and Major Characters
The Lord of the Rings charts the adventures of the inhabitants of Middle Earth, a complex fictional world with fantastical characters and a complete language crafted by Tolkien. The goal of Tolkien's literary life was ultimately to infuse his fairy stories with such exquisitely formulated detail of character, action, philosophy, and religion that they would be as “real” as the most factual nonfiction. Taken together, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with its prelude The Hobbit (1937)—which is based on bedtime stories Tolkien had created for his children—encompasses ten thousand years of Middle Earth history and includes an encyclopedic mythology inspired by but entirely separate from that of the human species. Peopled with a vast array of beings, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, and orcs, as well as the men of Westernesse, Middle Earth is arguably the most comprehensive imaginary world created by a writer in English, other than John Milton's heaven and hell. While not technically a part of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, which is considered a children's story and lacks much of the psychological depth of the trilogy, begins the story of the rings with the reluctant efforts of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to recover a treasure stolen by a dragon. During the course of his mission, the hobbit discovers a magical ring which, among other powers, can render its bearer invisible. The ability to disappear helps Bilbo fulfill his quest; however, the ring's less obvious faculties prompt the malevolent Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, to seek it. The hobbits' attempt to deny Sauron unlimited power is the focal point of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which consists of the novels The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). In these books Bilbo's nephew Frodo takes over the elderly Bilbo's quest, as Bilbo passes the ring on to Frodo in the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring. At this point the wizard Gandalf, who orchestrates many of the adventures in Middle Earth, tells Frodo that the ring has far more important powers than he suspects—that it may, in fact, hold the key to the world's fate. Throughout the trilogy, Tolkien rejects such traditional heroic attributes as strength, size, and bravado. Instead, he has Gandalf deliberately choose the reluctant hobbit heroes, who are small, humble, and unassuming, to guard the ring and thereby prevail against evil.
Despite Tolkien's protests to the contrary, The Lord of the Rings does evoke themes both from earlier literary archetypes and the development of modern culture in the twentieth century. Critics have found echoes from various works of epic and medieval literature, including The Iliad, The Song of Roland, Beowulf, The Elder Edda, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien's work as an Oxford scholar of early literature suggests that he, perhaps even subconsciously, was influenced by the adventure and mythology of these texts. But The Lord of the Rings also appears to address issues specific to the twentieth century, particularly the sense of loss, despair, and alienation that came as a result of the two World Wars. Many have read the trilogy as an allegory of the history of modern Europe, especially the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Others see it as a Christian allegory. Tolkien always denied that his books were either allegorical or topical in nature, maintaining that the events that occurred in Middle Earth predate any historical occurrences that Western humans could be aware of. Nevertheless, most critics find that, particularly because The Lord of the Rings was written roughly between 1939 and 1949 and because of Tolkien's own experiences serving in World War I, the influence of the catastrophic events of the twentieth century must have been inevitable.
Initial critical reception to The Lord of the Rings varied. While some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the story's great length and one-dimensional characters, the majority enjoyed Tolkien's enchanting descriptions and lively sense of adventure. Religious, Freudian, allegorical, and political interpretations of the trilogy soon appeared, but Tolkien generally rejected such explications. He maintained that The Lord of the Rings was conceived with “no allegorical intentions …, moral, religious, or political,” but he also denied that the trilogy is a work of escapism: “Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. … The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live.” Tolkien contended that his story was “fundamentally linguistic in inspiration,” a “religious and Catholic work” whose spiritual aspects were “absorbed into the story and symbolism.” Tolkien concluded, “The stories were made … to provide a world for the languages rather than the reverse.” Largely because of its fantasy elements and its seemingly anti-war themes, the trilogy was absorbed into popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and references to it appeared in music and materials related to the psychedelic drug scene. Interest in The Lord of the Rings was renewed in the early twenty-first century, with the release of a series of award-winning films based on the novels.
A Middle English Vocabulary (glossary) 1922
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [translator; with E. V. Gordon] (poetry) 1925
The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again (novel) 1937
Farmer Giles of Ham (short stories) 1949
The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (novel) 1954
The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (novel) 1954
The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (novel) 1955
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (poetry) 1962
Tree and Leaf [includes “On Fairy-Stories” and “Leaf by Niggle”] (essay and short story) 1964
*The Lord of the Rings [foreword by Tolkien] (novel) 1966
The Tolkien Reader (poetry and short stories) 1966
The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle (lyrics) 1967
Smith of Wooton Major (novel) 1967
The Father Christmas Letters (novel) 1976
The Silmarillion (novel) 1977
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth (short stories) 1980
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (letters) 1981
The Monsters and the Critics...
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SOURCE: Keenan, Hugh T. “The Appeal of The Lord of the Rings: A Struggle for Life.” In Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, edited by Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, pp. 62-80. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.
[In the following essay, Keenan finds that the appeal of The Lord of the Rings for adults lies largely in the trilogy's examination of existential issues and the psychology of childhood.]
Long before The Lord of the Rings became popular with children, educated readers began taking it enthusiastically and seriously. But how could mature readers take to the melodramatic incidents, the superficial brotherhood theme, and the one-dimensional characters of the trilogy? Most only hint at the reason, and few reveal themselves as did W. H. Auden, who says, “by the time one has finished his [Tolkien's] book, one knows the histories of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and the landscape they inhabit as well as one knows one's own childhood.”1 This hint from Auden marks the elemental nature of the book, I think. The major appeal of The Lord of the Rings grows from its underlying and pervasive presentation of the basic struggle of Life against Death. Tolkien's thematic presentation explores in its course the psychological meaning of childhood, another strong appeal for the mature reader.
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SOURCE: Bradley, Marion Zimmer. “Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship.” In Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, edited by Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, pp. 109-27. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.
[In the following essay, Bradley explores the expression of emotion in The Lord of the Rings in its most prevalent form: the love and admiration of young males for older, powerful father figures.]
Love is the dominant emotion in The Lord of the Rings, and love in the form of hero worship is particularly evident in the relationship between Aragorn and the other characters and between Frodo and Sam. Other forms of love are also apparent; the most important of these is heroic love which includes love of honor and love of country; additionally there is Gandalf's paternal and Goldberry and Galadriel's maternal love. Relatively little romantic love is depicted and what is appears to follow the chivalric, although not courtly, love convention. Underlying all of these is the love of the fellowship—that of one man for another; this love extends beyond the initial fellowship as the original members extend their relationship to serve and battle with others.
It should be noted, briefly and in passing, that Tolkien's self-consistent world, along with an alien geography and ecology, has its own appropriate manners, in...
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SOURCE: Reilly, R. J. “Tolkien and the Fairy Story.” In Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, edited by Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, pp. 128-50. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.
[In the following essay, Reilly analyzes The Lord of the Rings in terms of Tolkien's theory of the fairy story.]
When J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, appeared some seven years ago, it accomplished on a modest scale the sort of critical controversy which The Waste Land and Ulysses had occasioned a generation earlier. Like them, it could not be easily reviewed; it was anomalous; it forced examination of critical principles; it demanded a judgment that necessarily became a position to be defended. Before the quarrel subsided, the trilogy had been compared to the Iliad, Beowulf, Le Morte d'Arthur, and the work of Ariosto and James Branch Cabell. Critics reexamined the genres of epic, romance, novel, defended their views of such techniques as symbolism and allegory, went beyond the techniques and found themselves talking of fate and free will, essential human nature, natural law. But when the dust had settled, the trilogy remained an anomaly heartily liked or disliked not so much on literary grounds as on fundamental religious or ideological ones. It demanded extraliterary value judgments, and...
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SOURCE: Ready, William. “Man for Tolkien.” In The Tolkien Relation: A Personal Inquiry, pp. 115-31. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1968.
[In the following essay, Ready examines Tolkien's thoughts on human nature as they appear in The Lord of the Rings.]
Man is hard to handle. A free agent, often he rejects what he thinks of as the Good, let alone good wizards like Gandalf—good men. For as long as Man lives Nature and all beyond relate to him. But there is something in Man, divine and diabolic, that rejects this. When his malign desire embraces Nature, it is to subdue it and harness it to his will. When his good desire woos it, it is often to escape his manhood and be subject within it, to pull Nature over him like a blanket. The body's chemistry, land, sea, sun and sky are all related this way or that. What is eternal in Man's mind contains this record, but it overlords it with a vain and brave attempt, encompassing catastrophe, to break free of the tutelage that is built within, the Authority, to relate or not to relate as the will moves—not as his memory relates—not to share in love but to control or to cower. Man leaps from ice floe to ice floe, from hummock to tussock, to avoid facing the record and living by it. He rejects the surrender of his will, and his rejection is the cause of much of his woe, and the world's woe. Yet without this free will of his he would not be. This is what makes...
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SOURCE: St. Clair, Gloriana. “The Lord of the Rings as Saga.” Mythlore 6, no. 2 (spring 1979): 11-16.
[In the following essay, St. Clair presents arguments against placing The Lord of the Rings as a fairy story, an epic, and a romance, and instead contends that the trilogy is most similar to the genre of the traditional saga.]
One of the most useful aspects of literary criticism is to establish and to assign genres. Placing a modern work, like The Lord of the Rings, in its proper categories helps the reader to understand both the mechanics and the meaning of the work. Various critics have designated The Lord of the Rings a fairy-story, a traditional epic, a romance, and a novel. Each of these terms has some relevance, but none is, I believe as comprehensive and appropriate a genre for The Lord of the Rings as the saga. In this paper then, I wish to point out the weaknesses in the other assignments, to define the saga, and to demonstrate its pertinence to the structure and spirit of The Lord of the Rings.
I. THE FAIRY-STORY
In 1938 at the University of St. Andrews, J. R. R. Tolkien delivered as an Andrew Lang Lecture an essay “On Fairy-Stories,” which was later printed in Essays Presented to Charles Williams.1 Tolkien's critics have used this essay to measure his artistic achievement in The...
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SOURCE: Lobdell, Jared. “Defining The Lord of the Rings: An Adventure Story in the Edwardian Mode.” In England and Always: Tolkien's World of the Rings, pp. 3-25. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.
[In the following essay, Lobdell discusses elements of Lord of the Rings that coincide with the Edwardian adventure story.]
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. … And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well.
T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,” said the Rat.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
It is not at all certain that the game of Quellenforschung (“source-hunting”) is worth playing with The Lord of the Rings, or indeed with most literary creations. Exceptions can be made, of course, for the asking of questions such as “What did Chaucer really do to Il Filostrato?” or for the game-playing demanded by The Waste Land, but there may well be truth to the suspicion that the game in general is not worth the candle. Yet the search for sources can be part of a search for influences, and the search for influences can be both valid and helpful—as when we look for Vergil's influence on...
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SOURCE: Lobdell, Jared. “Tolkien's Genius: Mind, Tongue, Tale—and Trees.” In England and Always: Tolkien's World of the Rings, pp. 73-91. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.
[In the following essay, Lobdell discusses the widespread appeal of The Lord of the Rings.]
A people without history Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel, History is now and England.
T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
God gives all men all earth to love But since man's heart is small, Ordains for each one spot shall prove Beloved over all.
Rudyard Kipling, “Sussex”
“The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval.”
(“On Fairy-Stories,” p. 48)
We have thus far considered the tale, and especially its Edwardian antecedents and Edwardian mode; the study of tongues and its influence on The Lord of the Rings; and the theology of Tolkien's approach to the Incarnate Mind. Can we, in these three, find Tolkien's particular genius and the reasons for the success of The Lord of the Rings? As the title of this chapter suggests, I believe there is one further reason, one further part of his genius, but that by and large these suffice. They may not be exactly...
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SOURCE: Burger, Douglas A. “The Uses of the Past in The Lord of the Rings.” Kansas Quarterly 16, no. 3 (summer 1984): 23-8.
[In the following essay, Burger finds Tolkien's allusions to ancient and medieval tales in The Lord of the Rings to be intended as modernized instructional and moral stories.]
Unhindered by the realist's obligation to reflect ordinary, day-to-day life, the fantasist has the special freedom to give form to a fictional world which reflects his own keenest interest and his most profound wishes. Thus when J. R. R. Tolkien turns to fantasy, it is in no way surprising that his work should be deeply indebted to the past, particularly to the past of early legend and medieval tale. He was, after all, the Rawlinson Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, the co-editor of a widely respected edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a trail-blazing critic of Beowulf; and, as he says in the Foreword to The Lord of the Rings, “As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving.”1 Quite naturally, then, in his trilogy, Tolkien uses the genres, characters, symbolic structure, and often the original languages of ancient and medieval story. He, for example, chooses a form which closely resembles the characteristic genre of the Middle Ages: the romance, with its “Consolation of the Happy...
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SOURCE: Madsen, Catherine. “Light from an Invisible Lamp: Natural Religion in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 14, no. 3 (spring 1988): 43-7.
[In the following essay, Madsen argues against interpretations of The Lord of the Rings that locate the trilogy as a specifically Christian allegory and contends instead that it is informed by a nonspecific religiosity.]
It was in 1971 that a reader wrote to Tolkien, calling himself “an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling” and saying how profoundly he had been moved by The Lord of the Rings. “You,” he said, “create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp.” (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 413)
Some eight years earlier, though I was too young to put it so clearly, I had a similar response upon first reading the book. There seemed both a brightness and a severity in it, an intensity of focus, that was plainly religious in character, the plainer for not being specifically Christian. In those days I was very impatient with evangelism, and fairly good at detecting it; but what Tolkien seemed to be doing was something quite different. He seemed to present religious feeling, and even religious behavior, without ritual, revelation, doctrine, indeed without God except for two fairly cryptic...
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SOURCE: Wytenbroek, J. R. “Apocalyptic Vision in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 14, no. 4 (summer 1988): 7-12.
[In the following essay, Wytenbroek locates elements of both the biblical and the Old Norse vision of the end of the world in The Lord of the Rings.]
The title of my paper is “Apocalyptic Vision in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings,” and in it I shall refer to both the Christian view of the apocalypse, as presented primarily in the book of Revelations, and the Norse vision of Ragnarok, as presented in both the Prose and Elder Eddas. Both the Biblical and Norse visions of the last days of the world are very sketchy and open to much interpretation, the Norse Ragnarok being even less detailed and wide in scope than the Christian. Thus in discussing anyone's representation of the apocalypse, we need to be aware of the breadth of possibilities of reading and interpretation, and the almost endless potential for creating details and filling in the many vague, unclear, or apparently missing links and parts of both versions. I am going to argue that Tolkien took some of these allowable liberties with the little information he had before him, and that The Lord of the Rings presents a coherent and in some respects detailed schema for certain parts of the apocalyptic vision of both Revelations and the Eddas.
Firstly, however, I want...
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SOURCE: Bettridge, William Edwin. “Tolkien's ‘New’ Mythology.” Mythlore 16, no. 4 (summer 1990): 27-31.
[In the following essay, Bettridge distinguishes between myth and allegory and shows the ways in which Tolkien created in The Lord of the Rings a mythology.]
Myth, as the folklorist and the student of literature normally understand it, is the presentation of dramatic and supernatural episodes to explain and interpret natural events, to make concrete and meaningful and particular an otherwise abstract and difficult perception of man or a cosmic view. It may, in its various forms, explain or raise questions about such fundamental issues as creation, divinity, religion; it may justify rituals, or guess at the meaning of life and death. In short, it provides a narrative, dramatic embodiment of man's perceptions about the deepest truths and most perplexing questions concerning his existence, here or elsewhere.
Since the study of human psychology and literary criticism came to be regarded as near sciences, the study of myth has been intense and often confusing, not to say wrongheaded. After Freud began the plumb the depths of the human subconscious, the tendency grew to see in the tales of mankind, especially those we have identified as mythic, reflections of common truths, hopes, fears, aspirations of races and of mankind generally. Working from Jung's idea of the racial...
(The entire section is 5524 words.)
SOURCE: Potts, Stephen. “The Many Faces of the Hero in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 17, no. 4 (summer 1991): 4-11.
[In the following essay, Potts delineates the various “hero cycles” and applies them to The Lord of the Rings.]
Virtually countless are the heroes available to the student of mythology and mythic fantasy, and all but countless the studies and theories attempting to interpret these heroes. As long as mythic and fantastic tales have been seriously gathered and analyzed—that is, roughly since the Brothers Grimm published their Kinder-und Hausmärchen in the era of Napoleon—folklorists and mythographers have been struck by the many similarities among humanity's oldest stories and greatest heroes.
Today those of us who have wandered long in the lands of faerie, myth, and hero saga take such similarities for granted; the Hero, we know, is an archetype, or a collection of related archetypes. That we do hold this truth to be self-evident is attributable to the work of those intellectual heroes who have skirmished in the field where myth and metaphysics meet, scholars of the past century such as Sir James George Frazer, Vladimir Propp, Lord Raglan, Carl Gustav Jung, and Joseph Campbell. Unfortunately, frequently the conclusions reached by these men concerning the archetypal characters and patterns appear to have less in common than the heroes and...
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SOURCE: Arthur, Elizabeth. “Above All Shadows Rides the Sun: Gollum as Hero.” Mythlore 18, no. 1 (autumn 1991): 19-27.
[In the following essay, Arthur contends that Gollum is a hero in the sense that he is Tolkien's most complex and human-like character.]
Long after, but still very long ago, there lived by the banks of the great river on the edge of Wilderland a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people. I guess they were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors, for they loved the River, and often swam in it, or made little boats of reeds. There was among them a family of high repute, for it was large and wealthier than most, and it was ruled by a grandmother of the folk, stern and wise in old lore, such as they had. The most inquisitive and curious-minded of the family was called Sméagol.
Gollum is my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings. Every time I have read the trilogy—and I have read it many times—the thing I have most looked forward to was the next appearance of Gollum in the text. No one, I think, would dispute that Gollum is an important, even a crucial character in the trilogy, since it was with the simultaneous introduction in The Hobbit of Gollum and the One Ring that Tolkien began his exploration of not just the evil but the fascination of power—an...
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SOURCE: Nelson, Charles W. “The Sins of Middle-earth: Tolkien's Use of Medieval Allegory.” In J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth, edited by George Clark and Daniel Timmons, pp. 83-94. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Nelson examines the ways in which the characters in The Lord of the Rings personify various sins and virtues in the traditions of medieval allegory.]
During the Council of Elrond, the elven lord declares that “nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so” (The Fellowship of the Ring [FR] 350). This statement reflects Tolkien's version of creation in which Erú intended that everything should be good. Yet even early in The Hobbit, evil obviously exists in Middle-earth—and not only in Dol Guldur—as first the trolls and then the goblins demonstrate their wickedness all too clearly. After the almost fatal adventure on Caradhras in FR, Aragorn remarks that “there are many evil and unfriendly things in the world … that are not in league with Sauron, but with purposes of their own” (378). Among these are Shelob, the Balrog, and the “nameless things” gnawing at the roots of the world that Gandalf observes during his pursuit of the Balrog under Moria (The Two Towers [TT] 128). All these instances remind us of the extent to which evil has permeated...
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SOURCE: Chance, Jane. “Knowledge, Language, and Power: The Two Towers.” In The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power, rev. ed., pp. 59-94. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
[In the following essay, Chance examines the effects of the characters' relative level of articulateness in The Two Towers.]
LANGUAGE AND BEING
The Two Towers, [Towers] as much as any of the three parts of The Lord of the Rings, [LotR] dramatizes the power of language to change, control, dominate—and release. The diminution of intelligent life subverted by its own desires is reflected in the simple baby talk of Gollum to his Ring, his “Precious.” And the elevation of intelligent life to supernatural being—the Elves—is similarly reflected in their language and song, their ability as Namers, their hold on the past: “Elves made all the old words” (2:85). Between these two extremes appear other species and types, such as the greedy Orcs (like Grishnákh, who is manipulated by the captured Merry's own words, once the Hobbit understands the Orc's desire) and the long-remembering and all-male Ents (like Treebeard, whose memory and thinking powers are considerable). The Ents have also (like the Elves) composed songs, perhaps more as mnemonic devices than as tributes to history, and have designated certain words to mean ideas (“hill,” for...
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SOURCE: Chance, Jane. “The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien's Epic.” In Tolkien's Art: A Mythology for England, rev. ed., pp. 141-83. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
[In the following essay, Chance examines the tension in Lord of the Rings between the values of the age of Germanic heroism and those of the later Christian age.]
But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly through the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. But through Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in “world politics” of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). … [W]ithout the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.
—J. R. R. Tolkien Letter 131, to Milton Waldman of Collins (c. 1951)
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.
—J. R. R. Tolkien Letter 142, to...
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SOURCE: Shippey, T. A. “The Lord of the Rings (3): The Mythic Dimension.” In J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, pp. 161-225. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
[In the following essay, Shippey finds mythic-allegorical elements in The Lord of the Rings relating to events of the twentieth century, although contends that the trilogy is not an allegory of World War II.]
ALLEGORY AND APPLICABILITY
In the ‘Foreword’ to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote: ‘I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence’. As with the denial of any link between rabbits and hobbits (see chapter I), the evidence is rather against Tolkien here. He was perfectly capable of using allegory himself, and did so several times in his academic works, usually with devastating effect. In his 1936 lecture on Beowulf, for instance, Tolkien offered his British Academy audience ‘yet another allegory’ (it was not the first in the lecture), about a man who built a tower. He took the stone for the tower from a ruin, ‘an accumulation of old stone’ in a field, part of which had also been used to build the house in which the man actually lived, ‘not far from the old house of his fathers’ (i.e. the ruin). But...
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SOURCE: Abromaitis, C. N. Sue. “The Distant Mirror of Middle-Earth: The Sacramental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien.” Touchstone 15, no. 1 (January-February 2002): 33-9.
[In the following essay, Abromaitis discusses Tolkien's spiritual optimism in his writings.]
Most notable about J. R. R. Tolkien's books is the imagination that created their world. Tolkien himself reflects upon the use of the creative imagination, believing that man, made in God's image and likeness, shares in the work of God's creation. At the same time Tolkien is quite aware of his being in a fallen world, one in which he is working against the zeitgeist.
This spirit of the age permeates the artistic depiction of man as the inevitably alienated stranger. The presumption of the age is, in a certain sense, a mixture of two apparently opposed concepts of the real: materialism, reducing all of reality to that which is sense perceptible, and gnosticism, positing a spiritualistic reality available only to the illuminati.
Both mainstream and avant-garde artists and critics adhere to a vision of the world that is materialistic and/or gnostic. Their work essentially denies meaning and harmony, assumes that nothing can be known with certitude, and apotheosizes the self-consciously absurd, nihilistic, hedonistic, anti-heroic, deterministic, and downright ugly.
Ranged against this horror...
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Pearce, Joseph. Tolkien: Man and Myth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998, 242 p.
Critical biography that discusses Tolkien's creation of Middle Earth; includes an “Index of Characters and Places in Tolkien's Middle Earth.”
Callaway, David. “Gollum: A Misunderstood Hero.” Mythlore 10, no. 3 (winter 1984): 14-17, 22.
Argues that Gollum represents the battle between good and evil and may therefore be considered a heroic figure.
Clark, George, and Dan Timmons, editors. J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000, 213 p.
Collection of essays that suggest possible literary influences on Tolkien's development of Middle Earth.
Hibbs, Thomas. “Missing Tolkien: The Cultural Significance of The Lord of the Rings” National Review Online (26-27 January 2002): 1-2.
Rejects common interpretations of The Lord of the Rings as they began to appear with the release of the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring and suggests that Tolkien's ultimate meaning in his trilogy was the corruptive abilities of power.
Higbie, Robert, and Joe E. Bryan Jr. “Frodo and Childe Roland.” Mythlore 14, no. 1...
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