Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) (Vol. 1)

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Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) 1892–

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Tolkien, an Oxford don, is the author of the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, set in Middle-Earth, a region populated with Hobbits, wizards, and orcs. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

[The Lord of the Rings] is spun out in a masterly way. It is plotted with an astonishing prodigality of invention that never fails in the approximate 600,000 words of the whole. Tolkien can evoke hideousness, terror, horror, and dreadful suspense, as well as beauty, laughter, nobility and joy. The style is always graceful, often highly eloquent, occasionally lyrical with descriptive passages of much loveliness and color. Tolkien is an adept painter of scenes and evoker of images, who can orchestrate his narrative and descriptive effects with flexibility and variety, from pianissimo to forte, while keeping his themes or motifs tightly interwoven and steadily developing. Also he is a poet of much skill in the special veins appropriate to the work. He creates runic rhymes and bardic songs in a wide range of moods and meters, from comic to heroic to elegiac, in the modes of those that characterize Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian literature….

I think it safe to say that whatever anyone might hold to be the flaws, idiosyncrasies, or excesses of the hobbit story, this extraordinary imaginative feat in the making of an Other-world, meaningfully related to our own, is likely to be one of the most tenacious works of fiction in this present age of Middle-earth. It gives joy, excitement, a lift of spirits, and it contains the kind of wisdom and insight which, if applied to the world we inhabit, might help our sore-beset race to hang on through the present shadows of modern Mordor into yet another age.

Edmund Fuller, in his Books With Men Behind Them (© 1959, 1961, 1962 by Edmund Fuller; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1962, pp. 174-75, 196.

The Lord of the Rings is a twentieth century Beowulf. It too "glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of all men concerning the fate of human life and efforts." But the epic tradition was no longer open to Tolkien. The epic, for all its magnitude, moves within realms of the possible and expected. We sense that even Grendel and the Dragon have for the Beowulf poet and his audience a certain inherent probability. (If this judgment is unacceptable, the reader may follow Tolkien's lead and exclude Beowulf from the epic canon.) For precisely the same reason, and for others as well, the chronicle was not suited to Tolkien's purposes. The chronicle depends on a substantial core of historically probable events which then enable it to absorb a host of improbabilities, both real and fictitious. However, Tolkien's pretense that The Lord of the Rings is based on ancient chronicles is not entirely unfounded. As the Appendices which round out Volume III show, Tolkien himself has written the chronicles of Middle Earth, and The Lord of the Rings is an elaborate exposition of certain events in the chronicles relating to the end of the Third Age. The substantiality and magnitude of Tolkien's book is sufficient proof that epic and chronicle were within the reach of his technical and creative ability; but they were not suited to his purposes. Only the romance tradition, with its radical displacement of probable reality, could accommodate the many wonders of Tolkien's imagined world and so allow us to glimpse the cosmic and the thought of all men.

George H. Thomson, "The Lord of the Rings: The Novel as Traditional Romance," in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1967 (© 1967 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), pp. 43-59.

Although Tolkien must be believed when he denies that the book is in any sense allegorical, The Lord of the Rings definitely presents an ethos which is as significant for the contemporary world as...

(The entire section contains 6187 words.)

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