J. R. R. Tolkien

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien 1892–1973

British novelist, poet, editor, critic, short story writer, and Anglo-Saxon scholar. Tolkien created a complete mythology with his works of fantasy, which narrate a timeless cosmic struggle between good and evil and have captured the imaginations of a generation. He is credited with making the fairy tale accessible to adults through his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and essay, "On Fairy Stories." His success made fantasy a popular and acceptable genre for adult writers, many of whom have imitated his example. Tolkien was born in South Africa, and moved to England at the age of four following the death of his father. Perhaps Tolkien's greatest influence was his mother, who introduced him to history, leg-ends, and the fascination of language. At an early age he began composing his own languages and later wrote stories and poems as a framework for them. Tolkien studied linguistics at Oxford, and in 1925 became Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon. From 1945 until his retirement he was the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and became an emeritus fellow of Oxford. His scholarly works on philology and literature are considered major contributions to both subjects. While at Oxford he made the acquaintance of novelist and critic C. S. Lewis, who was later to talk a reluctant Tolkien into submitting The Hobbit for publication. The Hobbit, based on Tolkien's private mythology and the bedtime stories he told his children during the 1930s, began the history of Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings continues the saga, having as its theme the corruption of power. The Silmarillion, which was begun in 1916 but published posthumously, forms the prologue to The Lord of the Rings. During the 1960s Tolkien was catapulted to fame as young adults discovered his books. The cult spawned clubs, journals, buttons, and graffiti, as well as societies devoted to the serious study of Tolkien and his works. Tolkien's critical reception has been less wholeheartedly enthusiastic: he has been criticized for characters, especially women, who are one-dimensional and for prose which is flat and lacking in imagery. Although the initial craze surrounding his work has ebbed, young people still respond positively to Tolkien's characters, identifying with their quests towards maturity and self awareness. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18; obituary, Vols. 45-48; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2; Something about the Author, Vol. 2.)

The publishers claim that "The Hobbit," though very unlike "Alice," resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own—a world that seems to have been going on before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him. Its place is with "Alice," "Flatland," "Phantastes," "The Wind in the Willows."

To define the world of "The Hobbit" is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone….

[This] is a children's book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. "Alice" is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown-ups; "The Hobbit," on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone...

(This entire section contains 636 words.)

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to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but "The Hobbit" may well prove a classic.

"A World for Children," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1937; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 2, 1937, p. 714.

C. S. Lewis

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1186

[The Fellowship of the Ring] is like lightning from a clear sky; as sharply different, as unpredictable in our age as [William Blake's] Songs of Innocence were in theirs. To say that in it heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed, has suddenly returned at a period almost pathological in its anti-romanticism, is inadequate. To us, who live in that odd period, the return—and the sheer relief of it—is doubtless the important thing. But in the history of Romance itself—a history which stretches back to the Odyssey and beyond—it makes not a return but an advance or revolution: the conquest of new territory.

Nothing quite like it was ever done before…. The utterly new achievement of Professor Tolkien is that he carries a comparable sense of reality unaided. Probably no book yet written in the world is quite such a radical instance of what its author has elsewhere called 'sub-creation'. The direct debt (there are of course subtler kinds of debt) which every author must owe to the actual universe, is here deliberately reduced to the minimum. Not content to create his own story, he creates, with an almost insolent prodigality, the whole world in which it is to move, with its own theology, myths, geography, history, palaeography, languages, and orders of beings—a world 'full of strange creatures beyond count'. The names alone are a feast … [and are] best of all … when they embody that piercing, high, elvish beauty of which no other prose writer has captured so much.

Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realized. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. They will know that this is good news, good beyond hope. To complete their happiness one need only add that it promises to be gloriously long: this volume is only the first of three. But it is too great a book to rule only its natural subjects. Something must be said to 'those without', to the unconverted. At the very least, possible misunderstandings may be got out of the way.

First, we must clearly understand that though The Fellowship in one way continues its author's fairy-tale, The Hobbit, it is in no sense an overgrown 'juvenile'. The truth is the other way round. The Hobbit was merely a fragment torn from the author's huge myth and adapted for children; inevitably losing something by the adaptation. The Fellowship gives us at last the lineaments of that myth 'in their true dimensions like themselves'. (p. 1082)

[The Hobbits] are not an allegory of the English, but they are perhaps a myth that only an Englishman (or, should we add, a Dutchman?) could have created. Almost the central theme of the book is the contrast between the Hobbits (or 'the Shire') and the appalling destiny to which some of them recalled, the terrifying discovery that the humdrum happiness of the Shire, which they had taken for granted as something normal, is in reality a sort of local and temporary accident, that its existence depends on being protected by the powers which Hobbits forget against powers which Hobbits dare not imagine, that any Hobbit may find himself forced out of the Shire and caught up into that high conflict. More strangely still, the event of that conflict between the strongest things may come to depend on him, who is almost the weakest.

What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to a specifically theological, or political, or psychological application. A myth points, for each reader, to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key; use it on what door you like. And there are other themes in The Fellowship equally serious.

That is why no catchwords about 'escapism' or 'nostalgia' and no distrust of 'private worlds', are in court. This is no Angria, no dreaming; it is sane and vigilant invention, revealing at point after point the integration of the author's mind. What is the use of calling 'private' a world we can all walk into and test and in which we find such a balance? As for escapism, what we chiefly escape is the illusions of our ordinary life. We certainly do not escape anguish. Despite many a snug fireside and many an hour of good cheer to gratify the Hobbit in each of us, anguish is, for me, almost the prevailing note. But not, as in the literature most typical of our age, the anguish of abnormal or contorted souls; rather that anguish of those who were happy before a certain darkness came up and will be happy if they live to see it gone.

Nostalgia does indeed come in; not ours nor the author's, but that of the characters. It is closely connected with one of Professor Tolkien's greatest achievements. One would have supposed that diuturnity was the quality least likely to be found in an invented world. And one has, in fact, an uneasy feeling that the worlds of Furioso or The Water of the Wondrous Isles weren't there at all before the curtain rose. But in the Tolkinian world you can hardly put your foot down anywhere from Esgaroth to Forlindon or between Ered Mithrinnd Khand, without stirring the dust of history. Our own world, except at certain rare moments, hardly seems so heavy with its past. This is one element in the anguish which the characters bear. But with the anguish comes also a strange exaltation. They are at once stricken and upheld by the memory of vanished civilizations and lost splendour. They have outlived the second and third Ages; the wire of life was drawn long since. As we read we find ourselves sharing their burden; when we have finished, we return to our own life not relaxed but fortified.

But there is more in the book still. Every now and then, risen from sources we can only conjecture and almost alien (one would think) to the author's habitual imagination, figures meet us so brimming with life (not human life) that they make our sort of anguish and our sort of exaltation seem unimportant. Such is Tom Bombadil, such the unforgettable Ents. This is surely the utmost reach of invention, when an author produces what seems to be not even his own, much less anyone else's. Is mythopoeia, after all, not the most, but the least, subjective of activities?

Even now I have left out almost everything—the silvan leafiness, the passions, the high virtues, the remote horizons. Even if I had space I could hardly convey them. And after all the most obvious appeal of the book is perhaps also its deepest: 'there was sorrow then too, and gathering dark, but great valour, and great deeds that were not wholly vain'. Not wholly vain—it is the cool middle point between illusion and disillusionment. (p. 1083)

C. S. Lewis, "The Gods Return to Earth," in Time and Tide, August 14, 1954, pp. 1082-83.

W. H. Auden

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 854

I suppose readers exist who do not enjoy Heroic Quests, but I have never met them. For many of us they are so much the most delicious form of literature that we can devour one even when our critical faculties tell us it is trash. Those who remember The Hobbit as the best children's story written in the last fifty years will open any new work by Professor Tolkien with high hopes, but The Fellowship of the Ring is better than their wildest dreams could have foreseen…. (p. 59)

For a contemporary writer who sets out to create a convincing imaginary world, the task is much more formidable than it was for the authors of the Courtly Romances, since he can neither write nor expect to be read as if the naturalistic novel and scientific historical research did not exist. It may give some indication of Mr. Tolkien's astonishing powers that I can only find two questions of probability to raise, just as the questions themselves may illustrate the difference between a mid-20th-century reader and a contemporary of Spenser. We are told that the Hobbits have lived for many generations immune from war, pestilence, and famine; and that, normally, they have large families and are long-lived. In that case, I do not quite understand why population pressure has not forced them to emigrate from the Shire. Secondly—a minor point—the drying up of the Sirannon river is explained by the fact that it has been dammed; but the lake so formed has been full for years—where is the water going to?

The first problem for the maker of an imaginary world is the same as Adam's in Eden; he has to invent names for everything and everyone, and these names must be both apt and consistent with each other. It is hard enough to find the "right" names in a comic world; in a serious one, success seems almost magical. I can only say that in the nominative gift Mr. Tolkien surpasses any writer known to me, living or dead. (pp. 59-60)

Again, what other creator of imaginary landscapes has possessed so acute a topographical eye? For a journey to seem real, the reader must be convinced that he is seeing the landscape through which it passes as, given his mode of locomotion and the circumstances of his errand, the traveller himself saw it. By the end of the volume Frodo Baggins has covered some thirteen hundred miles, much of it on foot, and with his senses kept perpetually sharp by fear, watching every inch of the way for signs of his pursuers, yet Mr. Tolkien succeeds in convincing us that there is nothing which his hero noticed which he has forgotten to describe; indeed, so exact is he that a reader who consults the beautiful map at the end of the book will observe immediately that the course of the road between Hoarwell Bridge and Bruinen Ford is erroneously drawn.

In a heroic romance where the situations are those of elemental crisis to which the possible reactions are few, to stand one's ground or to flee, to be faithful or to betray, subtleties of character drawing are neither possible nor relevant. The characters must be representative specimens of a few archetypes, the Wise man, the Strong man, the Cheerful man, the Cautious man, the Lady of Light, the Lord of Darkness, etc. Mr. Tolkien manages very cleverly to give his types an uncommon depth and solidity by providing each of them with a past which is more that of the group to which he belongs than a personal one; what Aragorn, for instance, talks about is the history of the Rangers, not of himself. Only one character, and this may be an idiosyncracy of my own, does not come off. Sam Gamgee, the faithful squire, is certainly a very estimable person and I think that we are meant to love him; but, in me, he arouses a strong desire to kick him all round the block.

Perhaps Mr. Tolkien's greatest achievement is to have written a heroic romance which seems wholly relevant to the realities of our concrete historical existence. When reading medieval examples of this genre, enjoyable as they are, one is sometimes tempted to ask the Knightly hero—"Is your trip necessary?" (p. 60)

In The Fellowship of the Ring, on the other hand, the fate of the Ring will affect the daily lives of thousands who have never heard of its existence. Further, as in the Bible and many fairy stories, the hero is not a Knight, endowed by birth and breeding with exceptional arete, but only a hobbit pretty much like all other hobbits. It is not the wise Gandalf or the mighty Aragorn but Frodo Baggins who is called to undertake this deadly dangerous mission which he would much rather avoid, and if one asks why he and not one of a hundred others like him, the only answer is that chance, or Providence, has chosen, and he must obey. (p. 62)

W. H. Auden, "A World Imaginary, But Real," in Encounter (© 1954 by Encounter Ltd.), November, 1954, pp. 59-60, 62.

Maurice Richardson

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

The Two Towers is the second volume of [Tolkien's] mammoth fairy tale, or, as some call it, heroic romance, The Lord of The Rings. It will do quite nicely as an allegorical adventure story for very leisured boys, but as anything else I am convinced it has been wildly overpraised and it is all I can do to restrain myself from shouting: Conspiracy! and slouching through the streets with a sandwichman's board inscribed in jagged paranoid scrawl in violet ink: "Adults of all ages! Unite against the infantilist invasion."

It has been compared by Richard Hughes to Spenser's Faerie Queen; by Naomi Mitchison to Malory; by C. S. Lewis to Ariosto. I can see why these three should have soft spots for its Norse and Celtic and mystical trappings. Mr. Auden has also gone into raptures over it [see excerpt above]. This, too, is not unexpected, because he has always been captivated by the pubescent worlds of the saga and the classroom. There are passages in The Orators which are not unlike bits of Tolkien's hobbitry. (p. 835)

My first impression is that it is all far too long and blown up. What began as a charming children's book has proliferated into an endless worm. My second that, although a great deal of imagination has been at work, it is imagination of low potential. The various creatures, hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, ents (tree-wardens who seem at times to be almost walking vegetables) are nicely differentiated. Their ecology is described with scholarly detail and consistency. But not one of them has any real individuality; not one is a character. And though their dialogue is carefully varied, from coloquial-historical for men and wizards to prep school slang for hobbits and orcs, they all speak with the same flat, castrated voice.

I also find the story-telling (true, this is particularly difficult to judge in an isolated volume, and I should warn new readers who are going to begin here that they will find the synopsis barely adequate) confusing. Interest is diffused between too many characters and groups. In this volume the hobbits, Pippin and Merry, steal too much of the picture from the chief hobbit, Frodo, the original possessor of the Ring which all the fuss is about.

Naturally there are points in favour. The battle scenes are well done; the atmosphere of doom and danger and perilous night-riding often effective. The traditional mystical confusion attaching to a quest, and a struggle between good and evil … is neatly worked into the plot. And the allegorical aspect rouses interesting speculations. How much relation is there between the world—ruined, note—of the story and our own past, present and future? To what extent, if any, does the Ring tie up with the atomic nucleus, as well the orcs at all equated with materialist scientists? Nevertheless, the fantasy remains in my opinion thin and pale. And the writing is not at all fresh. (p. 836)

Maurice Richardson, in The New Statesman & Nation (© 1954 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), December 18. 1954.

Loren Eiseley

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468

Beginning with The Hobbit, a tale of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a small, intelligent representative of a people whose simple underground houses have sometimes led me to suspect that they are remote relatives of rabbits, we pass from a fascinating child's tale to the great orchestra of The Lord of the Rings, in which a whole Secondary World is created and successfully sustained through three large volumes.

These are sure to remain Tolkien's life work; and are certainly destined to outlast our time. They stand as a major creative act, and it is not without significance that Tolkien tells us in Tree and Leaf that his full taste for fairy stories, using the term in its highest sense, arose during the war. He knows better than most that the adult mind has, if anything, greater need of fantasy than that of the child, greater need of consolation, and that if Christianity be a myth of secondary Creation, then it has permeated and enlightened and in some sense influenced the Primary World: the beautiful enchantment has become real. (p. 365)

[Tree and Leaf] may seem slight by contrast [with The Lord of the Rings], consisting as it does of an essay on the fairy tale and the account [in "Leaf by Niggle"] of an artist named Niggle. Niggle procrastinated upon making a journey we all must make. Of his once great picture only a single painting of a leaf remains. To the student of The Lord of the Rings, however, it is plain that no one but the author could have so clarified his purpose or illuminated the underlying dignity of that enchantment in which the true artist "may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation."…

Can it be that long familiarity with Bacon's Primary World has reduced our present universe, for all the vast range of our instruments, to [what Samuel Taylor Coleridge calls] a "mass of little things?" "Of all faces," says Tolkien wisely, "those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention…. Creative fantasy … may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds … you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained … no more yours than they were you."

This is the essential message of Tree and Leaf: to approach with care the interpretation of a wayward universe that in spite, or because, of our learning threatens to slip away without genuine comprehension, or—and much worse—to assume unexpectedly the vanished shape of Sauron. (p. 367)

Loren Eiseley, "The Elvish Art of Enchantment," in Book Week (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), May 9, 1965 (and reprinted in The Horn Book Magazine, August, 1965, pp. 364-67).

Henry Resnik

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

In recent months, The Lord of the Rings has been at the top of college best-seller lists across the country, and although the Tolkien people wince at the word "fad" as if it were sheer blasphemy, even they will admit that their enthusiasm has gone—perhaps inevitably—beyond all reason. The Tolkien people may be less noisy than the LSD-heads, but there are more of them, and they give the lie to most of the melodramatic scandal that has emanated from the American campus within the past year. Look into the mirror of their emotion—the world of Tolkien—and you will probably find a clue to what today's students are really about; look into that mirror and you may even find the link that ties you to them….

The books are essentially an adventure story, and this certainly accounts for part of the enthusiasm they generate. The adventure is founded on the well-known medieval convention of the quest, complete with hero (occasionally in armor), dragons of various sorts, treasure (or reward) at the end, and, although less important (the books are not very sexy), a smattering of fair ladies. (p. 91)

The easy answer to why The Lord of the Rings appeals so strongly to high-school and college students is that to them the ring represents the power of destruction which threatens and haunts them—the bomb. This sort of easy thinking raises problems, however. First, apparently all the Tolkien people have rejected the allegorical interpretation as pointless and uninteresting (some admittedly prompted by Tolkien's own distaste for allegory). Second, high-school and college students seem rarely to think about the bomb these days, much less construct allegorical connections concerning it…. The younger Tolkien fans, in fact, claim they read the books for the sheer "fun" of it. A Columbia freshman speaks eloquently for his fellow fanatics: "I'd be downcast if there were a social meaning." Yet here there is a certain division among the Tolkien people. The older ones readily grant that the books are a powerful and hopeful affirmation about man, filled with philosophical import, but even they do not think this is a good reason for reading the books.

To all readers, however, the world of Tolkien seems to offer a delicious, vintage-wine sort of escape. (pp. 91-2)

The most sophisticated evaluation of the fad inevitably turns, however, to the imaginative scope of Tolkien's world…. Tolkien's power of imagination seems to be, at any rate, the single element which all the Tolkien people praise, whatever their terminology.

But none of the Tolkien people have observed an important quality in themselves which may explain the explosion better than any other single factor. The majority of them are unified not by a need to find ethics in a hopeless modern world or a desire for escape or a passion for myths and languages (although these may explain their initial attraction to the books); rather, they share the hobbit spirit—the pluck, the taste for adventure, the joie de vivre, and, above all, the total commitment to their goals (once they decide to have goals) that unite them all. (p. 92)

Henry Resnik, "The Hobbit-Forming World of J.R.R. Tolkien," in The Saturday Evening Post (© 1966 The Curtis Publishing Company), July 2, 1966, pp. 90-4.

Joseph Mathewson

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 882

[At] college bookstores all across the country, students who formerly pounced on The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies are passing them up in favor of a new Lord, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The king of the campus novels is dead. Long live the king. (p. 130)

The Hobbits and their buddies are almost wholly good and, with one exception, light of skin. And no one has much more psychological depth than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. There seems to be no allegorical meaning to the trilogy. At least the author denies there is, and he also denies that World War II impinged on his plans for the cycle. If The Lord of the Rings has any message at all, it may be that good can win in conflict with evil, but that good is irreparably changed by the conflict. But even reading that much into the books may be reading too much, since they are in essence nothing more than fairy tales, grown up and grown exceedingly lengthy, escapist and nonintellectual.

How, then, did The Hobbit and the trilogy come to take the place of Salinger's appeal to the gut reactions of so many adolescents and Golding's fashionable pessimism?…

There was, at the outset, something cliquish about the reading of Tolkien, a hint of the secret society. It was as though the consumption of his works were a sort of ritual which, once fulfilled, admitted the reader to an inner circle of cognoscenti. But it was also a passport to Middle-earth, and those who have been there are generally as eager to talk about what they've seen as the tourist back from a ten-day jaunt through Europe. The true fan's need to rehash his discoveries endlessly with as many people as possible has tended to overbalance the pleasure he feels from being among the elite, and Tolkien's remarkable gossip value may be one of the major reasons why his books have ceased to be the province of cliques—or rather, why they have become the province of cliques so widely spread as to form a cult. (p. 131)

The non-fan might … think that an admiration for Tolkien was one of the higher forms of camp, and he might point for proof to the curious status of women in the trilogy. They are largely in the background, to say the very least…. And the symbolism involved in taking a ring to be destroyed is too obvious to require examination.

But the fans have little interest in the Freudian deeps of their totem. They are, for the most part, content to explore its sizable surface, studying lines of descent and gazing with inexhaustible wonder at the maps of Mordor and Gondor, Rohan and Eriador which decorate the books. (pp. 131, 221)

During the past few years, American college students have changed immensely from silent, or introspective, types to vocal, active members of the world outside their cloister. The foremost decloistering agent has been the civil-rights movement, a complex of issues that students tend to see in unequivocal terms: The little old Negro woman who wants to vote is good, and the redneck sheriff who keeps her from it is bad. Working for the good, students come in touch with a large number of adults who share their zeal, as a result of which they may be inclined to reject Holden Caulfield's blanket condemnation of all adults as phony. To carry on their work, they must be more or less convinced that they can remake the world and make it better, so they may also be inclined to reject the thesis of Lord of the Flies that if people were given a chance to start life anew, they would mess up just as badly as they did in the beginning.

But the world the students have entered is at times almost too real. Its inhabitants are often put in jail, often beaten and vilified, sometimes even murdered. They well may want to escape from it occasionally. The best escape is not just as way out, though, but a means of assurance, too: It's better to go down a ladder than to jump from a sixth-floor window. And the great appeal of the Tolkien books may be that they offer both, not only page after page of faraway Middle-earth but also the victory of good over evil in a struggle where the lines are as clearly drawn as they ever were in Selma, Alabama. Having found such a febrifuge, the students have naturally done what they could to make it a lasting one, absorbing its every detail and coming in effect to believe in Middle-earth as an alternate reality.

A thoughtful student once compared destroying the ring to pasting the apple back on the tree of knowledge. "After it's gone, there's innocence again," she said, the seraphic look of the saved in her eyes. This generation of college students has lost its innocence early, in however good a cause. Perhaps they would rally to any books that tell them they can get it back by pushing their cause to success. But Tolkien got to them firstest with the mostest. (pp. 221-22)

Joseph Mathewson, "The Hobbit Habit" (first published in Esquire Magazine; copyright © 1966 by Esquire, Inc.), in Esquire, September, 1966, pp. 130-31, 221-22.

Peter S. Beagle

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

The real surge of interest in Tolkien's writing has been among high school and college students. Students make strange and varied works their own, and if there is any significance to their adoption of The Lord of the Rings—beyond the fact that it's a good book—the hell with it; one or another of our explainers of the young will take note of it pretty soon. But there is one possible reason for Tolkien's popularity that I would like to put forward, because it concerns the real strength of The Lord of the Rings. Young people in general sense the difference between the real and the phony. They don't know it—when they begin to know that difference, and to try to articulate it, then they are adults and subject to all the pains and fallibilities of that state. They can be misled by fools or madmen, but they sense the preacher who doesn't feel a word of his sermon, the mountebank who is putting them on, the society that does not believe in itself. They rarely take a phony of any sort to their hearts.

Tolkien believes in his world, and in all those who inhabit it. This is, of course, no guarantee of greatness—if Tolkien weren't a fine writer, it could not make him one—but it is something without which there is no greatness, in art or in anything else, and I find very little of it in the fiction that purports to tell me about this world we all live in. This failure of belief on the authors' part is, I think, what turns so many books that mean to deal with the real things that really happen to the real souls and bodies of real people in the real world into the cramped little stages where varyingly fashionable marionettes jiggle and sing. But I believe that Tolkien has wandered in Middle-earth, which exists nowhere but in himself, and I understand the sadness of the Elves, and I have seen Mordor.

And this is the source of the book's unity, this deep sureness of Tolkien's that makes his world more than the sum of all its parts, more than an ingenious contrivance, more than an easy parable of power. Beyond the skill and invention of the man, beyond his knowledge of philology, mythology and poetry, The Lord of the Rings is made with love and pride and a little madness. There never has been much fiction of any sort made in this manner, but on some midnights it does seem to me that my time is cheating itself of even this little. So I have read the tale of the Ring and some other books many times, and I envy my children, who have not yet read any of them, and I envy you if you have not, and wish you joy. (pp. xv-xvi)

Peter S. Beagle, "Tolkien's Magic Ring," published by Travel Magazine, Inc., in Holiday Magazine, 1966 (and reprinted in The Tolkien Reader, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Ballantine Books, Inc., 1966, pp. ix-xvi).

Matthew Hodgart

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 927

Although I like reading epics, medieval romances, and folktales, for many years I could not get beyond the barrier of that first all-too-Hobbit sentence: "When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." When I forced myself inside I began to read with growing speed and excitement; then went back to The Hobbit (which is a very good children's book); then read most of the Rings for a second time, at first enjoying Tolkien's learning and craftsmanship, but ending up disenchanted….

The war episodes and the spy episodes [in The Lord of the Rings] are beautifully synchronized, with a very precise chronology and no loose ends in the narrative. But although the war is presented in a pastiche of Anglo-Saxon and medieval epic and the spy part is a romantic Quest, the basic form is that of a John Buchan thriller. (p. 10)

Everything [in The Lord of the Rings] resolves itself into a simple conflict between Good and Evil. Drawing with immense skill on the Iliad, the Edda, Beowulf, the Irish epics of Cuchullin and the Tuatha Dé, the Mabinogion, Chrétien de Troyes, and Malory, Tolkien completely changes the spirit of heroic and romantic literature; there recognizable human beings suffer from some of the confusions and ambiguities of real life, but he brings everything down to the black-and-white of the fairy tales. But he goes even further than the fairy tales, where the opposition is usually not between moral good and evil but between the familiar world of men and the uncanny world of nature and the supernatural. That contrast he expresses perfectly in The Hobbit and in the forest episodes of the Rings, but throughout most of the latter he presents a much more radical opposition, which is in fact a theological one, between God and the Devil. For a parallel in medieval literature we must look to works written under the inspiration of Christian doctrine: to the Chanson de Roland, with its straight conflict between good Christians and bad Saracens, or to the oddest and least secular part of Arthurian romance, the Queste del Saint Graal. Somewhere in the background of the war between Gondor and Mordor is the war in heaven as described in Revelations.

This is not to say that the book is an allegory in the strict sense, like [John] Bunyan's Holy War. (pp. 10-11)

We can take [Tolkien's] word for it that the characters and actions do not stand for historical people or topical events: Sauron is not Hitler, the Scouring of the Shire is not about present-day England. But isn't the book really a parable, consciously aimed at putting across the general Christian view that the universe is a battlefield between the forces of good and evil? That Frodo is a Christ-like figure does not seem doubtful to me: his journey about Easter-time across the plain of Gorgoroth (cf. Golgotha) is a Calvary; he is stripped of his garments, flogged by the soldiery, scratched by thorns: he saves the Shire and "dies" for it, finally going west over sea to the Elfish Tir-nan-Og or land of eternal youth. The Hobbits have apparently no formal religion; the men of Gondor only a silent grace before meals and a place called the Hallows. But it is hinted that Aragorn is really a monotheist and that the Quest takes place under divine providence. The Rings has a family likeness to the science fiction of C. S. Lewis and to the detective stories of Charles Williams, who were his friends and eloquent fellow-Christians at Oxford. Lewis and Williams deliberately chose forms of popular fiction to convey a general message about religion, at the least to predispose their readers to accept a supernaturalist view of the universe. Tolkien is a much better writer than either, but he seems, whether wholly consciously or not, to have attempted much the same thing….

[The] extreme polarization of good and evil, which is so striking in the works of all three, is not only reminiscent of rigid medieval Christianity but is also, surely, rather infantile. The Hobbits are several times described as children, and that is quite acceptable, since the genres of fairy tale and romance rely on the childlike powers of the imagination. But the Hobbit view of life remorselessly divides the world up into Good Fathers (like Gandalf and Aragorn) and Bad, castrating Fathers (like Sauron, Saruman, and the Nazgul on their pterodactyls), while the terrors of the journey and the war read too often like infantile phobias. Carried into adulthood, such a view has been the basis of religious and political intolerance and persecution. One senses behind the author's tact and modesty a strongly authoritarian personality—as more obviously in C. S. Lewis—which insists on treating us all as children. If this is true, it may explain the astonishing success of the book among the young, who after a permissive upbringing may secretly want to be treated with authority like old-fashioned children. Tolkien appeals to the residual Christianity of our culture (which is probably stronger in America than in Britain) and by posing the problems of life in terms of absolute good and evil, he gives a pseudo-explanation more satisfactory to the imagination than the rational explanations of liberal humanism can ever be. (p. 11)

Matthew Hodgart, "Kicking the Hobbit," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1967 Nyrev, Inc.), May 4, 1967, pp. 10-11.

Robert Sklar

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Tolkien's trilogy … resembles the Anglo-Saxon chronicles he studied as a scholar. The Lord of the Rings is a work of art but it is also history—even if invented history—and it bears comparison to works of Gibbon or Parkman more readily than it does to other novels. The great historians are equally artists and builders of worlds. Gibbon's Rome and Parkman's French America are worlds as strange and distant from our own as Tolkien's Middle Earth. On the level of great historical narrative it matters little whether the events described can be absolutely verified; what matters far more is the historian's attitude toward his world and his treatment of it.

As a work of history The Lord of the Rings is distinctly Spenglerian in tone. Tolkien has created a historical world with a comprehensive erudition and a philosophical audacity few historians since Spengler have been able to match—and with a sense of tragic destiny nearly equal to Spengler's.

For at its core The Lord of the Rings is the story of civilization's decline. Good may finally triumph over evil, but good is never unalloyed—in men or in hobbits or in cultures. The Third Age of Middle Earth, which the trilogy brings to a close, was founded on the powers of lesser rings, rings for dwarfs, elves and men. But the One Ring rules them all. Were Sauron to recover the ring he could only subjugate Middle Earth; when Frodo succeeds in destroying it the other rings must lose their power, too. Frodo and his company know from the start, whether they should succeed or fail, that a 3,000-year era is doomed to end.

In many ways the Third Age had been a time of peace and beauty. Yet Tolkien's historical panorama is too vast to allow mourning over the passing of an age. The elves had "attempted nothing new, living in memory of the past." The dwarfs selfishly hoarded their treasures. Their time now was passed, and they were fated to depart, leaving Middle Earth to men.

For the hobbits, too, time in Middle Earth is drawing to an end. But these little people, with their provincial narrowness, their agelong inconsequence, their simple love of beer and pipe smoking, provide the moral center and the humor of Tolkien's trilogy, and the deep recognition young people feel when they read it. Ignored and underrated by others; hedonistic and isolationist by choice—suddenly a handful of them, Frodo and Samwise, Pippin and Merry, are chosen; or choose themselves. Their moment on the great stage of history has come: to act, to dare, to be brave, to endure hardship, risk their lives, and lose forever their comfort and anonymity. This challenge, and their response, is the true moral drama in The Lord of the Rings.

If young people identify more with the hobbits than with the warriors and kings of men in Tolkien's tale, surely one reason—though of course Tolkien could not have envisioned such a remarkable coincidence—lies in the resemblance of the hobbits' situation to their own. Many in the present generation of American youth see themselves as just such a chosen band, called upon to leave behind a way of life equally as self-serving and as oblivious to social truths.

This represents in part a vast metaphor for coming of age—The Lord of the Rings provides a most dramatic and mythic analogy for the rite of passage to maturity. But it also suggests a distinctive attitude toward the present. Young people are not so saddened by the Third Age's passing, perhaps because they envision the present as a time when another outmoded era is being left behind—an era when humans are as selfish as dwarfs and as self-satisfied as elves. Like the hobbit band, they can rise above the limitations of their own society and thus prepare themselves to inherit the future. (pp. 599-600)

The fantasy and imagination and other-worldliness of Tolkien's work are all important, but what is most important is not that it serves as an escape, or leads to contemplation, or makes for livelier dreams but that it provides a paradigm for action. It asks not who you are, or your pedigree, or your past associations but simply states: this is the task; are you willing to carry it through?…

The most unusual aspect of Tolkien's popularity is his complete unconcern with the traditional and conventional issues of adolescence, particularly that ontological stumper, "who am I?" In the trilogy, characters may change their names and identities several times over, but they are the last ones to stew over it. They know who they are and what they must do, and if they use disguises or pseudonyms it is simply part of the job. Young people do not miss the usual questions in Tolkien because the immediacy of action cancels out all Hamlet-like musings on the self. (p. 600)

Robert Sklar, in The Nation (copyright 1967 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), May 8, 1967.

William L. Taylor

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The Lord of the Rings is an extremely valuable pedagogical instrument for heightening students' awareness of concepts and values which are difficult to grasp in the modern environment, but which are essential for full response to literary works we must teach them. (p. 819)

The central values of the book are thoroughly traditional, and the direct, immediate style and tone reinforce the fact that, however applicable they may be to our own age, these are the things that have always been true. It is curious that in an age so bound to "realism" and "verisimilitude" we should find the great truths of human nature so fully embodied in a fantasy. No student who has read it is likely to deride products of creative imagination as insignificant because they are "unscientific." The relevance of this story to real life is inescapable, and it will win a far more respectful and attentive reading of "fantasy," whether it be A Midsummer Night's Dream or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Even the nature of actual sociological and international conflict is presented with vivid clarity, as Tolkien amplifies social, national, and racial differences into differences of species. Trolls are opposed to Ents, Orcs to Elves and Dwarves. Suspicions and hostilities between Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Trolls, even Men and Hobbits, are laid aside in the face of the common enemy or for the achievement of common aspirations. Alliances, intermarriage, defections, all reflect the real world on which the fantasy is based. It is this aspect of the book which has tumbled so many critics into allegorical interpretations—the Crack of Doom itself for anyone trying to understand the work.

All who have tried to teach such books as The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick are well aware that the present generation of high school students has a very weak concept of evil. It is extremely difficult to communicate to them the substance of these works, because they simply lack the emotional apparatus to respond to the forces of evil and corruption. I do not think there is another book available to us that will develop this sensitivity as fully as The Lord of the Rings…. One of Tolkien's greatest strengths as a novelist is his incredible sense of evil, and no reader can escape being affected by it.

Equally powerful is his presentation of the changes that occur in the human personality through contact with evil, even when that evil is not victorious. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins does not slay the dragon—that is accomplished by a minor character—but he does confront the dragon, and he is not the same person after the experience. On an epic scale, and with vastly amplified ramifications, The Lord of the Rings treats the same phenomenon. (pp. 819-20)

The arena in which the immense conflict between virtue and the corruptive forces of evil is fought, the lands of Gondor and Mordor and even all of Middle-earth, is somehow progressively condensed into the remarkably durable soul of little Frodo, the Hobbit, and at the moment of greatest violence, the entire drama is enacted in a little cave in the side of Mount Doom. These parallels between internal violence, character conflict, and cosmic turmoil can render a student far more likely to grasp the relation-ship between the personal drives of the characters and the primal forces of the universe in such works as Wuthering Heights or Moby Dick. Evil seems to be far more powerful than Good in The Lord of the Rings, and yet, somehow, Good triumphs, apparently because, as Gandalf says, it was meant to be. A strong sense of Fate colors the entire story, and though it seems to be a benevolent force, at least for the time being, it can give the student a far better grasp of Destiny as it functions in Greek drama or the novels of Thomas Hardy. And since its origin is the Wyrd of Germanic mythology, it bears directly upon Beowulf, a story which almost all high school students read and almost none appreciate….

The key to Beowulf and all heroic literature lies in this modern fantasy. (p. 820)

The characters in The Lord of the Rings are strongly drawn with simple, bold strokes, and are fine exemplars of the value as well as the limitations of character interpretation. Gandalf may well represent Hope, perhaps Conscience, but no one is in danger of forgetting that he is first of all that highly individual and vivid personality, Gandalf the Grey. His resurrection is an excellent instance of how a writer may use symbolism in a partial and restrictive way; the parallel to the resurrection of Christ is not maintained, and does not function at all at the conclusion of the story. Whatever Gandalf is, he is not a Christ-figure.

Many of the characters are valuably prototypic. For example, young readers often find Uriah Heep in David Copper-field too incredible to accept, but they may well look again when they realize his striking similarities to the possessed, maddened villain who won their complete belief, the astonishing creature, Gollum. Or again, no one has ever counted the protagonists in fiction who are supported by a loyal friend, but of them all, few are more winning than the lovable, plain-spoken Sam Gamgee, and few illustrate the structural function of the role so clearly.

Finally, there is the tiny heart of the entire massive creation, Frodo Baggins, the Hobbit. We rarely find characters in fiction who demonstrate so thoroughly the ability of a fine writer to force his audience into identification with his protagonist. We face Frodo's trials; we suffer Frodo's agonies; his life is ours. We identify unquestioningly—with a Hobbit. Tolkien has provided us an excellent demonstration of the powers of our own imagination caught up in creative fiction.

The book has its weaknesses, it is true. Tolkien's sense of the ugly and the evil far surpasses his sense of the beautiful and the good. His description of the lovely forest of Lothlórien falls short of the magical quality he aims at, while the desert surrounding Mount Doom veritably exhales the vapors of evil from every crevice in the devastated land. In details as well, there are flaws, such as the inadequate explanation given for the dark power known as the Balrog. But the virtues of the work overwhelm its deficiencies, and beyond the various pedagogical uses which I have pointed out, the book is a valuable literary experience in itself, of a sort we rarely see well executed. (p. 821)

William L. Taylor, "Frodo Lives," in English Journal (copyright © 1967 by the National Council of Teachers of English), September, 1967, pp. 818-21.

Michael Wood

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Tolkien is a Catholic and an Anglo-Saxon scholar, and the theology of his work is an extraordinary synthesis of heroic northern myth and Christian promise. Tolkien believes in Providence, both in and out of his fiction. He never mentions chance without a pious parenthesis—"if such it be"—yet he also believes, as he suggests the author of Beowulf believed, that within Time the monsters win. "We have fought the long defeat," Tolkien's Elf-Queen says, and the elves effectively leave the earth. God, in other words, is pulling his punches, to see how we make out against Sauron and his ilk. The treats come later, in the islands of the blessed.

This view accounts, I think, for two things in Tolkien's work. First, the fascination with the journey—not only in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings passim, but also in the rather thin stories, Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major; the journey becomes a figure or type of death, the happy release, the blessed departure. And secondly, the elegiac tone of the trilogy, which seems strangely at odds with its heroic theme. (p. 168)

Tolkien's "old times" are only half-mythical. They are a magical Arthurian past, certainly; a lost age where lords and ladies dally sweetly on the greensward and talk like Tennyson, where elves and dwarves and hobbits and wizards and other, older creatures are available for chats with mortal men. It is a haunted world where trees move and mountains threaten and the weather is always a metaphor—a world where at least one of what Tolkien calls "primordial human desires" is satisfied: the desire to "hold communion with other living things." It is an elvish Eden, a world seen in the morning, when "al was this land fulfild of fayerye," as the Wife of Bath put it. But Tolkien's old times are also simply historical, a picture of pre-industrial England, a place of unspoiled greenery, fields and forests. Forests especially.

Tolkien writes beautifully about trees—largely, I suspect, because he prefers them to people. At the end of the trilogy, when the quest is over, the heroic hobbits return to the Shire to find that Sauron's agents have been busy there too. There are chimneys belching out black smoke, and mean houses have replaced the picturesque burrows. There is arbitrary imprisonment, and there are distinct unfairnesses in the distribution of beer and tobacco. It's a tame picture of the great darkness: a mingling of a dim view of socialism and a wishful view of Hitler's Germany.

What is there, then, in this Tory daydream to prevent it from being the mishmash that Edmund Wilson thought it was? Why would people like Richard Hughes, Naomi Mitchison and C. S. Lewis want to compare Tolkien with Spenser, Malory and Ariosto (respectively)? The answer lies less, I think, in the quality or texture of Tolkien's work than in the extent and variety of it, and in the power of the complex moral fable which he manages to sustain.

Tolkien's borrowings are considerable: lines from heroic lays, a horn from Roland, an interesting case of resurrection from The Golden Bough, and a swan from an expensive staging of Lohengrin. Some of his "sources" are less dignified. (pp. 168-69)

But I don't intend these remarks as a criticism of Tolkien—well, only partly. They also give an idea of his range, which is wider than it looks. So that although he is capable of all kinds of archaic awfulness …, he is also capable of this characterisation of Sauron's evil eye, seen in an elf-mirror: "The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing." Roughly, Tolkien is good when the action is moving, and embarrassing when it stops. He is a born storyteller and a bad writer. The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, for example, an ancient evil awakened from its long sleep under the mountain, is as exciting as anything since Moby Dick, but the halt in Lorien, the land of the elves, is more like Maurice Hewlett or Anthony Hope.

Tolkien was born in 1892 (Nabokov and Borges were both born in 1899), but he belongs to an older generation: that of Yeats and the friends of Madame Blavatsky. The enemy is science, or rather the complacency of science, the self-satisfaction of people who think they can explain everything, who have no time for myths, for forms of truth which will not fit within a narrow rationalism. Hence Tolkien's fantasy, his insistence on the possibility of "fayerye"; hence Yeats's flirtations with the occult. Frodo the hobbit "looked at maps, and wondered what lay beyond their edges."

This is the striking thing about Tolkien's imagined world: the precision of its geography, the colour of the map beyond the map's edges. Tolkien is not good at creating individuals, but his types, his races, are fascinating. There are dwarves, orcs, elves, hobbits, ents, men, dragons, wizards, trolls, goblins, ghosts, all sharply differentiated, all speaking their own dialects. (pp. 170-71)

But all this still sounds closer to The Wizard of Oz than to Ariosto. What else is there? First, there is Tolkien's unrelenting psychologism. There are heroic adventures here, but they are all carefully internalised. The authentic acts of courage—a hobbit deciding to face a dragon, a handful of men deciding to fight against all odds—always take place in the mind. And the authentic conflicts of the trilogy are always telepathic—clashes of wills, combats of concentration. Good and evil are thus not abstractions, they are a confrontation. They are congregations of like-minded creatures lined up in opposition. The recruiting and the battles and the weather are simply metaphors for this.

And then the conflict in any case is not a simple one. The ring which Frodo has to destroy is a ring of power. If Sauron gets it back, nothing will be safe from him. But why shouldn't an enemy of Sauron use it against him, for the good of the world? This is the argument and the temptation offered to several important characters. The answer is that the ring simply is evil. Anyone who tried to use it would either become a servant of Sauron, or if he were very strong, become Sauron himself, a new dark lord. There is no good in the ring, no way of using it well.

Tolkien has said that his work is not an allegory, and it isn't, in any narrow sense. But it certainly isn't just a jolly tale either, and the rings represents something, whether Tolkien knows what it is or not. Ultimately, the ring represents the lure of the modern world itself, which must stain all those who try to change it or use it. "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed," as Yeats wrote, and the only answer is high conservatism: war without compromise, and without resort to the engines of the enemy. This is the long defeat the Elf-Queen spoke of, because a modern war on those terms cannot be won. But Tolkien would say, I think, that the war cannot be won anyway, and that the alternatives are death with clean or with dirty hands. The model is a desperate, noble wager which works in romance and inevitably fails in real life.

I don't find this an attractive or a realistic position, but I think it is a powerful and a coherent one—it is the position of Swift and Pope faced with what they saw as the rising darkness—and I think it has a lot to do with Tolkien's success, whether with poets or writers or students or teachers or hippies. "The world withers," Tolkien writes in an alliterating poem based on The Battle of Maldon, "and the wind rises; / the candles are quenched. Cold falls the night." Beowulf, anyone? (pp. 171-72)

Michael Wood, "Tolkien's Fictions," in New Society, March 27, 1969 (and reprinted in Suitable for Children? edited by Nicholas Tucker, University of California Press, 1976, pp. 165-72).

Mary Ellmann

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Eglerio! Praise them! I want to type fast and congratulate American Youth on the (J.R.R.) Tolkien Cult before it is over. Perhaps it ends today and thousands of people, shutting Volume I or II or III of The Lord of the Rings, are now never to know if Gollum came back or Frodo came to. Still, I would hope that no one, even on the West Coast where the time lags, missed the Door Scene in which two necromancers exert two separate spells, one to open a door and the other to shut it. The molecules of the door, flustered by these opposing influences, lose their grip on each other and go off every which way. The door achieves absolute Doorlessness.

The addiction of young people to scenes like that is unrivaled in its purity. In late and jaded adolescence, they have demanded their right to live innocuously…. [All] sorts of Tolkien readers grow innocent by association. Most of them, sick of being analyzed, are sick of analysis in fiction too. They could of course find book Be-Ins like Alice in Wonderland or Finnegans Wake in which there is no comprehensible motivation. But they prefer Tolkien in whom motivation is so comprehensible as to be less than none; at ones so limpid and yet so emphatic as to establish the only ambiguity that still pleases. Even the East Coast enthusiasts aren't quite sure whether their enthusiasm is epic or parodic, inspired by Tolkien real or Tolkien camp. The swollen smallness of the Rings, the swarming details of its self-evident circumstances, its colossal freedom from embarrassment create in the end a breathtaking puerility. It is a book like climbing to the top of Mount Everest to keep an appointment with one's sixth-grade teacher.

But (without precedent!) the teacher likes the same book the pupils like. The catholic charm of the Rings is its leaving out almost every complexity we know now: the young find this simplicity exotic, the middle-aged find it significant. The young enjoy transparency, the middle-aged take it for a moral solution of some previous or mutually premised opacity. It is as though at the bottom of a custard that the child swills down, the parent finds a single almond inscribed TRUTH. By good or bad luck (he himself seems undecided), the gap in Tolkien's writing between an intended sublimity and an actual absurdity doubles the audience. The simpler this writing becomes, the more it pleases the vestigial Matthew Arnolds who respond to clarity as to grandeur, and the hippies who want to float free of intricacies.

Tolkien nourishes the deprived impulse of them both given two dots on a piece of paper, to draw a line between them. In three volumes, he traces just such a narrative between a starting point, Bag End, Hobbiton, the Shire, in the west corner of the vast nursery called Middle-earth, to a final destination, the Cracks of Doom, Mount Doom, Mordor. The horizontal purpose is relentless, converts say irresistible: Frodo must get through to Mordor, Tolkien must get Frodo through, the reader must get through Tolkien. But even all this determination detaches itself from customary effort by its odd immateriality. It is true that Frodo Baggins is often said to have a Quest, an energetic concept of behavior, but his is not accumulative, he is not to come back with something he went after. He already has it: the First Ring of the Nine Rings of Power belongs to Frodo. But its use can only corrupt its user: Power Loves Evil. Still, it is not enough for Frodo to keep it hidden in his pocket or around his neck on a scapular string. For aligned against Frodo and all the cozy kitchen values of the hobbit culture are the eastern hordes headed by Sauron who is eager to frisk Frodo, find the Ring, and wear it himself: Evil Loves Power. It is, therefore, necessary for the Ring to go back where it came from, and for Frodo to take it there. (pp. 217-19)

[The] obsession of the hobbits with dark and light … determines the structure of their story. Their expedition is, in skeleton, a progress through a series of tunnels, like that of a well-accoutered toy train. In almost every chapter, hobbits are caught in a dark tight spot, they panic, they crawl or climb or fight, they emerge once again into light and space. And yet really, their enemies do to them only what they do to themselves. When they aren't forcibly inserted into little blind places, like dimes into a jukebox, they look for their own slots. That is, their system of values has, as they say in English class, a central ambivalence. While they don't want to be extinguished by others (put out like lights), they don't want to be brilliant either. Their ideal, and this is at once strange, ingenious, and alluring to Americans, is to be dim. So their temptation is to go too far, into total invisibility. The Ring offers Frodo this seductive chance, and in not keeping it on his finger, he proves he has the courage to be seen.

It would be painful to list the reasons American youth may have for wishing to disappear too. Fortunately, while Tolkien raises the possibility, he also argues strenuously against it. But in view of his influence here, one might wish he showed as much energy in urging a prompt maturity as well as a low but certain visibility. (pp. 221-22)

After so much labor, so much loss. The insolence of slimy things, and the unhealthy questions to be asked of them. Do words, then, have no certain commitment to dogma, are the two at cross-purposes here again? Tolkien himself is guiltless, oblivious of his own sudden insinuation—he endorses its opposite. His book is based on the assumption that all words, like the pigments of all skins, are indicative of either good or evil. Moreover, it is again the supposedly pretty that is good, and the supposedly ugly that is bad, in languages as in legs. (pp. 226-27)

[Both] the Elven and Coarse styles are only little lay-bys on the great highway, the M-1, of the Middle style. It is this blandness from which young people might have benefited the most, were it not for the linguistic distractions provided by that capricious Gollum. For the Middle style bears the intellectual brunt of Middle-earth. A sense of the unexceptional is omnipresent, the security of an unbroken line of commonplaces by means of which good dull creatures have regulated their thoughts and feelings for Generations Without Count. (pp. 227-28)

[Tolkien unites with a] settled syntax, never tense or impatient or dissatisfied, as predictable in form and as resonant in spirit as a bag of communion wafers. (p. 228)

But Gollum is a genuine subversion, not by evil so much as by idiosyncrasy. The almost whole fabric of predictability is broken by his speech defects, his gollum and his ss-sounds. He is a thing for a thing's sake, and so a coffee break from the business of the Rings, a reminder of surprise, singularity, and the new. It is perhaps with that first swerving motion of Gollum from the dead center that Tolkien, in a sense, gained and lost the Tolkien Society. For the present indications are that the young members tend to read their master in a spirit of impropriety. They express no enthusiasm for the Middle style and give no evidence as yet of having perfected it themselves. Their attention seems instead almost entirely directed toward those further eccentricities of background out of which Tolkien drew his Everyhobbit; and the long sleepy lessons of the book, like those of a late spring afternoon seminar, are passed over in an indecent hurry to play with elven penmanship or the Baggins family tree. An opportunity, rare in its pedagogical calm, is submitted to hectic and frivolous abuses. Even our estranged youth show our old incapacity to turn aside from any conceivable source of invention. (pp. 228-29)

Mary Ellmann, "Growing Up Hobbitic," in New American Review (copyright © 1968 by The New American Library, Inc.), No. 2, 1968, pp. 217-29.

Donald Davie

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The Lord of the Rings is one of the most surprising products of British literature since 1945, and one of the most serious. Edmund Wilson's attack on the book [see CLC, Vol. 1], though it hearteningly insisted on the obvious—for instance, that Tolkien's prose is as undistinguished as his verse (someone ought to point out, for example, how much mileage he gets out of the one word "great")—quite fails to account for the seriousness of the undertaking, for the pressure that drove the author through these thousand or more pages, as it has driven many readers (this reader among them) to follow through the same pages eagerly. The avidity with which The Lord of the Rings is read, the appeal of it and the loyalty it evokes among admirers—these are self-evident facts which can't be explained convincingly by talk of frivolity and escapism. The fantasy which the narrative promotes and exploits and nourishes has to be something which answers to a specific need. And as to this, Edmund Wilson has nothing to say.

At first sight there seems an obvious solution: the book answers to a hunger for the heroic. And to some degree this must be true; The Lord of the Rings is a grown-up's Superman. But the driving force of the book is unheroic, even anti-heroic. The logic of the plot (which is very logical and tidy, not at all like medieval romance) is quite unequivocal; heroes are not to be trusted, only anti-heroes…. Indeed the point of leverage for the whole of Tolkien's creation is an assumption the sourness of which is surprisingly little noticed, still less resented—the assumption that the hobbits, who are less than human, are the only beings in Tolkien's world that a human reader can, as we say, "identify with." We are forced to go along with this assumption because of the language that is put in the mouths of the hobbits, as contrasted with the more elevated and literary language that is spoken by everyone else. Though the language that the hobbits speak is not convincingly the language which the common Englishman does use …, it is plainly meant to be so, and we register it as at least nearer to live spoken English than the archaic and rhetorical language given to all others.

What the narrative says is that neither Gandalf nor Aragorn can be trusted with the power of the magical Ring—a power which on the contrary can be entrusted safely only to the hobbit, Frodo. The idealistic and devotedly heroic capacities of men cannot be trusted with power; power can safely be invested (and even so not with complete safety, for even Frodo is tempted and falls right at the end) only in those "halfling" men who, lost in a sleep of modestly sensual gratification, can rise to idealism only reluctantly and mistrustfully under the pressure of outrageous events, who behave heroically as it were in spite of themselves and to their own surprise, without premeditation. Thus the whole vast work tends to one end—to the elevation of the common man, of the private soldier over his officers and the schoolboy over his schoolmasters, of the sensual man over the intellectual, and of the spiritually lazy man over the spiritually exacting and ambitious. This is "the Dunkirk spirit," or "Theirs not to reason why."… (pp. 90-1)

Tolkien is concerned with [what makes behavior authoritative], but he's also concerned with power. Gandalf and Aragorn have authority without power; and this, it seems, is all right. Frodo the hobbit has power without authority; and this is all right too. What is not all right, in Tolkien's scheme of things, is to be like Saruman the wicked wizard who wants power and authority, both at the same time, the one to back the other. Creon and even Ismene would find this hard to understand. And so do I. Power without authority is unauthorised power is the power of the gangster. Authority without power is impotent authority, the authority of the figurehead, the merely nominal head of state. But that is not the worst of it. If, as … does Tolkien by implication, you identify authority with style ("They only are secure who seem secure"), then power without authority means power where we least expect it, power that is exerted upon us without manifesting itself: the power, for instance, of the advertiser and the media-manipulator—power which is all the more dangerous for not having any of the external marks by which we might recognise it, a power which operates under wraps or under the mask of the entertainer and the discreet or fawning servant. And authority without power, when authority is identified with style, becomes the magnetic or hypnotic authority of the great performer and the charismatic leader, the authority of a Hitler, whose authority is his power, and a very great power indeed. (pp. 91-2)

Tolkien, it is well known, is far more popular with American youth than with British; and among radicals and dissidents as much as with the squares…. And although American campus rebels are very different from the British rebels, it's reasonable to think that when they cry "Pigs!" at the representatives of authority on and off campus they, like their British counterparts, are conceiving of a society from which authority shall seem to have vanished, where at any given moment overt authority shall be vested in no one at all. The Lord of the Rings endorses such hopes, and feeds them. (p. 92)

Donald Davie, in Encounter (© 1969 by Encounter Ltd.), October, 1969.

Hugh Crago

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When Bilbo Baggins chooses to rush out of his hobbit-hole without his handkerchief and accompany some disreputable dwarfs on a dangerous and seemingly impossible venture, Tolkien makes it quite clear that he is choosing rightly. By opting for hardship instead of comfort and (more important still) Romance instead of everyday life, he is, we know, choosing the life of imaginative experience. Wizards, elves, dragons and treasure are, as well as being superbly real in themselves, symbols for various aspects of this life. Bilbo returns a better person for having lived it, and is promptly classed by his fellow-hobbits as "queer." Imagination, then, says Tolkien, is a good thing, but most men do not want it. It involves a conscious decision to brave not only the unknown, but also the scoffs and sneers of those "sensible" people who live right next door. Through the metaphor of the journey, and its universal associations of strangeness, discomfort and homesickness, Tolkien is able to convey with simple power a good deal of the quality of the experience, to make his readers shiver too. Really, the source of the Tolkien magic is as simple as that: few people have not felt snug at home by the fireside when the wind howls outside, and it's not hard to envisage the reverse situation vicariously.

Those who have read that curious story, "Leaf by Niggle" … will recall that in a simple allegory (and a remarkably successful one it is too) Tolkien develops these ideas a stage further. While the main point of the tale is an illustration of the theories expounded in the essay "On Fairy Stories", and contains the message that the imaginative man, the creative artist, has a responsibility towards his neighbour as well as towards his own work, there is also an explicit equation made between imaginative and spiritual experience. This time the journey is the ultimate one—Death, and the Mountains towards which the purged and perfected Niggle eventually sets off are clearly meant to correspond to Heaven.

In the magnum opus itself, the Ring trilogy, there is a great deal of emphasis on the central problem of power, but the theme of the imaginative/spiritual experience is still important. In fact I would contend that its presence is absolutely vital, and directly responsible for the magnificent minor-key ending—a conclusion the artistry and taste of which have been too little noticed by those who enthuse over the mere narrative excitement of the work. Frodo must leave Middle-Earth because he can no longer be happy there. His titanic spiritual test has left him wearied and transformed, so that he begins to resemble the Elves, whose doom-laden beauty and poignancy are so memorable. (pp. 125-26)

I have given only an outline of the development of this vital strand in Tolkien's work, but there is no real need to go into further details. By now it should be becoming clear what Smith of Wootton Major is: a restatement, a summary, a drawing-together of the ideas we have been following.

In this sense, then, there is little new in Smith. Its hero is a man who is granted the power to walk in Faery—to participate in the imaginative or spiritual experience, in other words. In token of this he wears a star on his forehead. Eventually, he has to give it up, and is saddened, but makes the right decision as to whom the grace shall go to next. His spiritual guardian (who later turns out to be the King of Faery) is Prentice, a figure markedly similar to Gandalf. Nokes, the villain of the piece, is the stock Tolkien materialist, who steadfastly refuses to believe in the existence of the spiritual—but he lacks the appeal that even the most unimaginative hobbits possess, and is rather an ugly figure.

In fact many people may feel that the replacing of the Shire with a village of men, complete with its slightly unsatisfactory Town Hall, Master Cook and ritual Great Cake, is a step in the wrong direction. While it is true that the writing lacks the assurance it has when Tolkien is talking about hobbits, and the characters that glorious individuality that hobbits have, it is obviously up to him to decide what suits his themes best. In this respect Smith falls into the same category as Farmer Giles of Ham, of which the setting is also generalised—Medieval. But on the whole, I think Smith is closest in tone and general character to "Leaf by Niggle." The very explicitness of its religious symbolism supports this, as well as the restricted scope, lack of humour (an important constituent in Giles) and lack of pace. Smith is not meant to be read primarily as a story, and as I have hinted, this fact in itself will disappoint many of its readers.

Though it is not particularly fast-moving, there is nevertheless considerable compression of events in Smith, and there is no doubt that the feeling of slight bewilderment one experiences during a first reading is at least partly due to the fact that there is a rapid succession of Master Cooks in the course of the story, and also two Smith Smithsons (since surnames in the village follow the standard Medieval practice.) Nor, one might add, does it help that Prentice is variously referred to as "Prentice", "Alf" and "The King of Faery".

The abruptness of the narrative due to the compression-factor is paralleled by a similar jerkiness in the style. The dialogue, for example, is a curious mixture of colloquial contractions and long-winded formalisms. Some of what Smith's children say simply doesn't come off at all:

"Daddy'." she cried, "where have you been? Your star is shining bright'."…

                                         (pp. 126-27)

Prentice's habit of asking questions and then hurrying on to exclamations and commands without waiting for a reply tends to make his speech too undignified for his status as a spiritual being. Faults like these, small as they are, bulk larger in this book than they do in the longer works (where the attentive reader can easily notice them also), because one is not reading so fast—another result of the smallness and lack of pace of Smith. Many of these defects could, however, be overcome by sympathetic and skilful reading aloud.

On the whole, though, Smith of Wooton Major must stand or fall on the portrayal of the "Faery" experience. In spite of Tolkien's careful distinction between this spiritual conception and Noke's idea of "Fairyland", there is more of the traditional fairyland in this Faery than one might expect with Tolkien…. There are, for example, a Fairy Queen, and a circle of dancing fairies—none of these is very memorable.

Some features of Faery are more successful, though. One thinks of the sudden advent of the Elven mariners, suggesting the awe and fear of the Faery experience, or of the clarity of the air in the Vale of Evermorn…. This is good stuff, and captures effortlessly the matter-of-fact flavour of the style of certain folktales.

Then there is the fiery lake, a splendid vignette, even if it does owe something to Lewis' picture of the land of Bism in The Silver Chair…. (p. 127)

These short-lived, vivid pictures, hurrying always onward like a speeded-up succession of stills, are highly successful in transmitting to the reader the quality of the experiences Smith undergoes. But unfortunately, Tolkien abandons image for quasi-philosophical statement at the climactic point, and nearly ruins the whole thing:

… and a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the world and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace.

Not only has Tolkien never previously attempted to describe this particular mystical condition—he has never tried to evoke "Faery" as a place before, except possibly in the chapter on Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings. It is not surprising that the endeavour is in some ways unsuccessful. Such regions are better hinted at than charted in more detail. But at least we can see that some new ground has, after all, been broken in Smith of Wootton Major. We have guessed that it is perhaps because it is so full of basic Tolkien ideas that other aspects of the book suffer, but luckily it is not a summary only. There are some flashes of genuine fire, and if Faery is not as successful a symbol as the journey out of the warmth into the cold, that is no reason for not trying it. Tolkien, like Bilbo and Frodo, is not yet content with treading the well-worn path, and this is to his credit. (pp. 127-28)

Hugh Crago, "Tolkien in Miniature," in Tolkien: Cult or Culture? by J. S. Ryan (© J. S. Ryan, 1969), University of New England, Armidale, 1969, pp. 125-28.

Alexis Levitin

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1000

The Lord of the Rings focuses upon a particular episode in the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. Special emphasis is placed on the central role that Power plays in this conflict. Tolkien demonstrates that Power is the true weapon only of Evil, and that even in the hands of Good it eventually must result in corruption and suffering….

[Louis J. Halle, in a review comparing Tolkien's work to actual historical studies, says] "The two prime facts of Middle-earth … are power and its consequence, suffering…. In the historian's view, power is not a neutral element that can be used for good or evil. It is always evil, for it enables the wicked to dominate the world or, in the hands of the good, is inescapably corrupting."

It is apparent that Tolkien considers the influence of Power to be ultimately pernicious. He associates Power, and all its concomitants, with his wicked characters, but, for the most part, he denies them to his heroes. (p. 11)

Tolkien unfortunately interchanges words such as Power and Force without distinction, although he does seem to distinguish between the two concepts….

It is clear that good people may be powerful without destroying their goodness. Gandalf, Elrond, Glorfindel, Galadriel, and Aragorn are all quite powerful, yet manage to avoid falling to evil ways. The mere possession of power, although potentially dangerous, need not lead to wickedness. It is the exertion of one's strength through Force that is corrupting. Galadriel possesses one of the three rings of power forged by the Elves themselves, ages before, under the deceitful advice of Sauron, and has the Ruling Ring come within her grasp. But she resists the temptation to use Force, recognizing that the Ruling Ring is an Evil Power that must dominate, compel, subjugate, and destroy….

The varying possibilities inherent in power are illustrated by the Rings…. [Power] for good does exist, but it is necessarily limited in scope. The power to heal and build, understand and create, is a good and marvelous power, but as such has no control over war, nor can it procure dominion over others.

When Tolkien uses the word Power he is almost always referring to the evil Force represented either by Sauron or his Ring. Force is based on fear rather than love. It is compulsive, demanding of its victims actions which they abhor, and forcing things upon them which they are too weak to resist. (It should be recalled that the powerful Wizards are sent to unite those who are willing to fight Sauron, but may not compel them to do so.) Power such as Gandalf's is personal, and vaguely spiritual. He recognizes the existence and importance of other beings. He sympathizes with them, and wants to help them in their plight. Force, such as Sauron's, is impersonal and materialistic. Sauron considers himself the living center of all existence, and the other beings with whom he must deal are only objects to him. He feels himself the real and true living Being surrounded by things. These things he desires to rule, command, distort, destroy, in effect, treat exactly as he likes.

Sauron's Power is the greatest of its kind in Middle-earth, but it has several inherent weaknesses, one of which in particular leads to his downfall. Sauron, so mighty and so evil, cannot conceive of other beings who think differently from himself, whose attitudes toward power could be different. This lack of imagination on his part proves fatal….

This weakness can be exploited because those fighting Sauron are able to guess how he looks at things. The Good can imagine what it is like to be bad, but Evil cannot imagine how it is to be good. Evil cannot imagine anyone else being different, basically, from itself. This proves its doom. (p. 12)

There are other elements intrinsic to Sauron's evil nature which prove of great detriment to his cause. He is filled with a lust for domination which drives him to extremes of cruelty far beyond the point of usefulness….

Sauron's craving to hurt others drives him to illogical actions….

A third weakness of Evil is its inability to command solidarity in its forces. An evil being only loves himself, and will not willingly help another for his own sake. The orcs, converted by Sauron into a thoroughly wicked race, always bicker and struggle amongst themselves. They serve Sauron, but only out of fear. In fact, they would never serve for any other reason, unless it were the enticement of great reward. Saruman, the renegade wizard, is an independent evil power who, although under Sauron's dominion, tries treacherously to gain the Ring for himself. He is first of all a traitor to the good cause which he originally served, and secondly a traitor to the Evil One who partially has enslaved him. He wants Power, incarnate in the Ring, for himself alone. The good, on the other hand, are able to unite, for they only want the end of the Ring of Power, so that all can be at peace….

The Ring plainly is a symbol of Power. It can provide unlimited Power to its possessor, but he is forced to lose his freedom and become a slave to that Power. Even the best intentions in the world will eventually be smothered by the Ring's insidious influence upon its user. Gandalf and Galadriel both refuse to wield the Ring, knowing that their good beginnings would be followed by evil results. (p. 13)

I think it important to stress the fact that the Ring attacks its victim through Pride, the primary sin of Christian theology. Boromir and his father Denethor, both noble men, fall prey to the lure of Power, entrapped by thoughts of the grandeur of their nation and of themselves…. Saruman the White, at one time a good wizard, also falls to evil through desiring the Ring, which he has never even seen [, corrupted by the desire for power]. (p. 14)

Alexis Levitin, "Power in 'The Lord of the Rings'," in Orcrist, No. 4, 1969–1970, pp. 11-14.

C. Stuart Hannabuss

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I believe that Tolkien was working out a quasi-Christian morality in pagan terms, using a former culture and literary tradition to furnish the scenario to a quest which incorporated the major issues of Life. His landscape is one of utter contrasts, images of good and evil…. The denizens of Tolkien's world fall into two camps, broadly good and bad; and, with a simplicity due to this moral viewpoint, as well as due to the simple characterization in epic, so we find Gandalf ranged against Sauron, Fangorn against Saruman, Sam against Gollum, and Bard against Smaug…. It is thus a dualistic scheme we see, with the ultimate victory to good (the "eucatastrophe"), and in this sense Christian.

Perhaps the most effective of the images representing this Good (or, in Christian terms, Love) is Sam's rehabilitation of the Shire…. [Sam] uses his "magic" creatively, for the good of others, as an attempt to transform the "primary world" into a "secondary world" with the "inner consistency of reality". (pp. 87-8)

Yet the victory good has over bad is almost Pyrrhic: so clearly do the heroes anticipate and acknowledge defeat that we are in the world of Beowulf and the Norse sagas. And this is the culture which Tolkien so lavishly resurrects…. Tolkien's world is an arena, no paradisal garden or utopian golden age but a world shot through with archetypal threats and phobias…. (p. 88)

This "dream world" is not escapist…. Withdrawal into a secondary world, and the communication of that in the primary world, are coinherent in the scheme of life, and religio-fantasy creates a bridge between the two worlds: for they have parallel and cross-fertilizing eschatologies. (p. 89)

The Lord of the Rings is a story, a saga, stories within stories, a "what then?" story. It is a quest or odyssey undertaken by an Everyman figure, the Hobbit, who likes regular meals and the peace of his Shire. We believe in Hobbits, with their Hobbit-holes and genealogies, and we travel across mountains and plains, feeling the weight of the Ring. Man in a landscape of moral ambivalences and on a quest with metaphysical and mystical overtones. Parts of the route are purgatorial, as when Aragorn leads them through the Paths of the Dead like Aeneas with his golden bough; as when Frodo crawls up Mount Doom to wrestle for his life and soul against the power of the Ring. The fate of the participants moves from physical to metaphysical planes continually in the archetypally patterned symbolism, which subconsciously alludes at all times to Christian iconography…. But subsuming the overtly Biblical is the story which can in poetry mirror man's dilemmas and look Life in the eye. Whether we are refreshed depends on our faith, that bridge of the two worlds. (pp. 93-4)

However many uses Tolkien's text is put to, it has vindicated the fantasy tradition from the criticism that the genre is a mere "contamination of reality by dream". To have read it is to have come nearer, if not to Veritas, at least to verities, and one has joined an elite—not self-appointed but arising naturally—an elite of those with a clear view. (p. 94)

C. Stuart Hannabuss, "Deep Down," in Signal (copyright © 1971 C. Stuart Hannabuss; reprinted by permission of the author and The Thimble Press, Lockwood Station Road, South Woodchester, Glos. GL5 5EQ, England), September, 1971, pp. 87-95.

Gerald O'Connor

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There are [many] explanations for the popularity of [The Lord of the Rings] as anyone who has taught it knows. It's a great story. It has wildly original and interesting characters. It takes place in a delightful world of fantasy. And, finally, it communicates an extraordinary reverence for natural life. Long before ecology became fashionable, the trilogy celebrated the natural wonders of our world: the earth, the water, the trees, the flowers, the other living things that Tolkien lets us commune with…. To me, all of these are good reasons why any young person could enjoy The Lord of the Rings. In fact, so anesthetizing are they that a great many young people have not only willingly suspended their disbelief when reading the trilogy but their critical judgment as well. For, as I intend to show, read critically, The Lord of the Rings is really an Establishment book.

The first of the six crimes against the counter-culture state that the trilogy makes is genocide: it glorifies age and it disparages youth. Not only are the great figures in the book aged, their age is their greatness. (pp. 48-9)

[There are six superior creatures who] represent the greatness of extremely old age [and] Frodo and Aragorn who might be said to represent the virtues of middle-age…. Frodo is not the Marlowe of Conrad's Youth nor Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf. He is a shrewd, practical, cautious, solid citizen of the Shire who achieves a measure of heroism in spite of himself.

That Frodo is not to be seen as a representative of youth is made emphatically clear by Tolkien's treatment of Pippin who is. At twenty-nine the youngest of the Fellowship, Pippin is characterized in volume one as a thoughtless, disrespectful, irresponsible, foolish child…. In short, Tolkien does not seem to trust anyone under thirty, but almost everyone over three hundred.

Now as ignominious as it is to be young like Pippin, at least he is included in the Fellowship. No woman is. For if to be young is to be disestablished, to be female is to be disenfranchised. Accordingly, a second reason why the Lord of the Rings should turn off the young today is its institutional male chauvinism. In the trilogy this chauvinism takes two forms, the virtually total exclusion of women from the main action of the story, including membership in the Fellowship, and secondly the subordinate role that the few women do play, Galadriel excepted.

The Fellowship itself, like the comitatus of the Heroic Age, consists exclusively of males and affirms traditional male values: bravery, strength, loyalty, and above all the love of fellowship. (pp. 49-50)

[Another of the book's basic ideas is blood supremacy. The whole of The Lord of the Rings makes it clear that] your blood is your destiny. This idea, it seems to me, is a third reason why young people today should critically reject the book….

In the trilogy the theme of blood runs strong, deep, and blue. As a result a rigorous caste system exists, a Great Chain of Being for those who prefer euphemism.

The most important example of a caste relationship is, of course, that between Sam and Frodo. Sam treats his Mr. Frodo with unwavering devotion, loyalty, kindness, self-sacrifice, worship, love, and servility. In turn, Frodo treats his servant Sam with unwavering benevolence, paternalism, tolerance, pity, understanding, love, and patronage. In another context their relationship could easily be construed as a parable defending the institution of slavery. (p. 51)

The retainer to lord relationship is a microcosm of the whole social structure of The Lord of the Rings. From the wealthy Bagginses of Bag End to the galloping Rohirrim of Rohan, from the Mirkwood Forest to the Gulf of Lune waters, this land was not made for you and me but for them and theirs.

Implicit in this hierarchic structure is a value that, as all commentators agree, the young today uniformly and overwhelmingly reject—authoritarianism…. Yet somehow The Lord of the Rings has escaped this tidal wave of youthful rebellion.

This authoritarianism, the fourth reason why the trilogy should alienate and not attract its young readers, so completely informs the work that any documentation of it is necessarily arbitrary and selective. (p. 52)

As well as illustrating the great respect for authority which pervades the trilogy, the fall of Boromir … illustrates the two qualities of the book, the fifth and sixth reasons I will discuss, which are most completely and directly in contradiction to the ideals of the young today. I am referring to moral and political absolutism. Because these two are identified, or confused if you will, in the trilogy, as they have been in our lives, I will not attempt to distinguish between them but rather treat them as one overall world view.

The most explicit statement of the moral and political absolutism that informs the work is Aragorn's answer to Eomer's "How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" To convince Eomer that the war with Sauron is indeed a Holy War, that political neutrality is tantamount to moral depravity, Aragorn answers: "As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men." In The Lord of the Rings good and ill do not change—shape or sides. (p. 53)

I am saying that in moral and political terms the Lord of the Rings is a monument to all the pious cliches,… all the self-righteous rhetoric, propaganda, and bullshit of the past. The War of the Rings is another war with God-on-our-side. As Tolkien's history tells it, and tells it so well, the cavalry charged and the orcs they fell. And you never ask questions when God's on your side….

Young people are saying everywhere that they have had enough killing in the name of God and Country; that they are sick of body counts of orcs, slopes, Indians, blacks, trolls, or gooks. Young people today should be aghast at, not entranced by, Tolkien's heroes from Rohan who "sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them" and whose "hoofs of wrath rode over" the dead they had slain. Young people today, as Melanie tells us, bleed inside each other's wounds. Young people today sing songs of peace. (p. 54)

Gerald O'Connor, "Why Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' Should Not Be Popular Culture," in Extrapolation (copyright 1971 by Thomas D. and Alice S. Clareson). December, 1971, pp. 48-55.

Richard Purtill

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One criticism made of Tolkien is that his language is general, unspecific, not evocative of particular images unlike that of D. H. Lawrence, for example. But Tolkien writes in this way on theory and of set purpose. As some scattered remarks make clear, Tolkien distrusts overspecific description in fantasy for the same reason he is wary of pictures in such books: both have the effect of dragooning the imagination, forcing us to see the scene in a certain way. (pp. 40-1)

[Another] accusation is that the language in, for example, the Rings is "derivative," full of echoes of other literature…. Of course, this is a highly relative matter. If you have not read the other literature you will miss the echoes, and if you read The Hobbit before Beowulf, the dragon in Beowulf is likely to remind you of Smaug rather than vice versa. But again there is a principle behind the accusation, the principle that originality is valuable in itself and lack of originality vitiates any other merits a work may have. Yet, prevalent as this assumption is, it seems also to be false. Originality in itself does not make a work good, for a work can be a failure in an entirely new way. Complete originality is impossible; any work has a great deal in common with works that have gone before. Furthermore, originality is a matter of degree; a completely unoriginal work would have to be an exact copy of another work. Traditional material traditionally treated occurs in many admittedly great works of literature. The idea that interesting work can no longer be done in some traditional form is always open to refutation by counter-example.

But there is also a confusion here between two kinds of unoriginality. Tolkien is unoriginal in his images in one way, original in another. He is unoriginal in that he uses familiar associations—light with goodness, darkness with evil, for example. (pp. 45-6)

However, the use Tolkien makes of these familiar images is far from unoriginal. (p. 46)

Archaisms, richness, and variety of proper names and imagery taken from sense experiences are all highly characteristic of Tolkien's works. (p. 47)

The use which Tolkien and Lewis make of language in their fiction grows out of their professional concern with language, in interesting ways. Tolkien's field of specialization is Anglo-Saxon…. The study of Anglo-Saxon itself would, I think, have some tendency to influence any imaginative person to think of roots and origins, the means by which language molds and is molded by history. The way in which modern English is built on an Anglo-Saxon foundation with Latin, French, and other borrowings, the way in which an Anglo-Saxon word (cwik, for example) can change and evolve over a period of time, has a tendency to remind us of how the present is based on the past and of the great gulf of history which lies behind us. Tolkien's chronologies, histories, and legends in the Ring trilogy surely owe something to this habit of mind. (pp. 61-2)

Tolkien has not merely borrowed from the early English epics which he dealt with as a scholar. He has created in our own time a work with something of the same fascination and the same mythical quality. In the making of this story, Tolkien's own experience of language and its history has played its part. (p. 66)

Both Lewis and Tolkien … are Christians, and their morality is essentially Christian morality. This is so clear in Lewis that we have found critics accusing him of propaganda. It is much less clear in Tolkien, and this has tempted some critics to say that Tolkien's view of the world is "really" the modern view and not the traditional Christian view. This is [a] major … misunderstanding of Tolkien…. (p. 95)

Tolkien's vision is profoundly his own and deeply Christian, and if we misunderstand this we seriously misunderstand him. (p. 101)

[The] real moral focus of Tolkien's story is on the two races, hobbits and men. They can sink to complete damnation, as the Ringwraiths have done, and as Bilbo or Frodo might have. But they can rise to something like sanctity, as Frodo does. We have detailed pictures of moral struggle in men (Boromir, Théoden, Denethor), in most of the hobbit characters (especially Frodo, Sam, and Bilbo, but also Merry and Pippin), and in the wizard Saruman who is at least ostensibly a man or elf-man.

The constant temptation of all the characters is to give in, give up the struggle and cooperate with the Dark Lord. Against this the virtues characteristic of the heroes of the story are courage, will and endurance, and loyalty and love. (p. 104)

The responsibility of each person to do God's work, the danger of using evil means—this is Tolkien's message. (p. 112)

[Tolkien] is telling us a story, which can be enjoyed purely in its own right. Like all good stories, it has echoes of others, including that greatest of all stories—which Tolkien believes is a true story—the life of Christ.

Gandalf and Frodo are not allegorical masks for Christ, as in a strict allegory, nor symbols for some aspect of human condition, as in a loose allegory. They are people in their own right. But because they are almost real people they can, as real people can, express Christ in their own way. (p. 127)

Tolkien's view is a world of purpose, a world where there is a real struggle between good and evil, a hope and danger which go beyond the personal. (p. 154)

Richard Purtill, in his Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (copyright © 1974 by The Zondervan Corporation; used by permission), Zondervan, 1974.

Randel Helms

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[We] have in The Hobbit and its sequel what is in fact the same story, told first very simply, and then again, very intricately. Both works have the same theme, a quest on which a most unheroic hobbit achieves heroic stature; they have the same structure, the "there and back again" of the quest romance, and both extend the quest through the cycle of one year, The Hobbit from spring to spring, the Rings from fall to fall.

The episodic structures of the two books are so closely parallel one says without exaggeration that The Lord of the Rings is The Hobbit writ large. (p. 21)

But if The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are in essence the "same book," why did Tolkien feel obliged to write again what he had already done once? The answer is, of course, that far from being the same book, they have merely the same narrative husk; between them is a host of subtle and profound differences. (p. 23)

[Despite] the similarities between them, the first is in all respects smaller than its sequel, in direct proportion as the readers of the one are smaller than the readers of the other. In the earlier work, Tolkien is addressing children and dealing with a closely limited theme—growing up—telling about Bilbo's "birth" out of Bag End and his gradual initiation into full "manhood." Tolkien's moral is little more than "Be brave, enter life's dark secret places; there may be golden treasure hid within." The Hobbit is, at its narrative heart, a book about entering and grasping, and taking forth symbols of manhood…. [The] moral elements of The Hobbit are relatively simple, something evident to any adult reader, and really no damning criticism of a children's book; what is striking is the contrast to its sequel—a story grown vastly greater in import and application, heavy with the fate of civilizations and the weight of long history. (pp. 24-5)

In the earlier work, composed for his children, [Tolkien] adopts an "angle of address" of approximately forty-five degrees, talking down to his little listeners; this stance controls the tone, as in the opening paragraph: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell." This first page, and indeed much of the book, is marred for the adult reader by a set of tonal quirks, perhaps the worst being the excessive number of modifiers—"perfectly," "very," "lots and lots," "on and on," "many," "little" (all from the first page)—and the frequent authorial intrusiveness, clearly taken over in imitation of oral storytelling style in which a narrator (Daddy at bedtime) breaks in to share private jokes with his diminutive listeners: "Yes, I am afraid trolls do behave like that, even those with only one head each."… (pp. 26-7)

Corollary to the tone of the early parts of The Hobbit is an obvious lack of moral inclusiveness, a narrowing of the range of good and evil permissible to its characters. There is a clear difference in moral depth, for example, between the initial adventures of Bilbo and Frodo on the road to Rivendell. Bilbo's adventures begin on the night of June 1. Inexplicably separated from Gandalf, the dwarves and the hobbit find themselves cold and supperless on a wet night, grimly preparing to sleep on the ground, when they spy a light ahead. Bilbo the burglar, sent forward to reconnoiter, discovers trolls, fierce, man-eating creatures, on a raiding expedition. But such trolls! "Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrer … Yer can't expect folk to stop here for ever just to be et by you and Bert. You've et a village and a half between yer, since we come down from the mountains."… Tolkien deliberately undercuts the force of our response to the trolls' wickedness by giving them a Cockney dialect, and a rather crudely presented one at that. We are asked to laugh as well as shudder, and caught between the two reactions, we finally have neither. But this is, of course, the adult response; what Tolkien has done with his trolls is altogether suitable for children, and there is no use in faulting him for undercutting the evil. The tone is at one with the substance of the scene and with the minds of the audience. All we can say here is that Tolkien has not yet purged himself of the notion of a natural connection between fairy stories and the minds of children…. (p. 27)

Compare, now, Bilbo's trolls with the account of Frodo's first adventure on the way to Elrond's. Again separated inexplicably from Gandalf, and again on the road at night, the hobbit and his companions trudge toward Rivendell. Suddenly hearing hoofbeats, they hide beside the road:

As Frodo watched he saw something dark pass across the lighter space between two trees, and then halt. It looked like the black shade of a horse led by a smaller black shadow. The black shadow … swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him….

The jocular authorial intrusiveness has disappeared, and the evil is distilled to its mythic and elemental basis—shadow—lacking not only a comic dialect, but even the humanizing force of speech itself. The hero faces not comic villains, but something wholly inexplicable, against which he has no defense at all—the stuff of bad dreams, perhaps, but essential fantasy. (pp. 27-8)

The Hobbit … lacks a certain intellectual weight, lacks the commitment, fully expressed in The Lord of the Rings, to exploring and revealing the enriching, ennobling functions of fantasy. (p. 30)

What, then, is the deepening impulse, where the magic moment, when Tolkien's vision begins to probe and plumb, touching at last richness and complexity? As we should expect, it begins when Tolkien's hero encounters Middle-earth's most compelling symbol, the Ring, and its most complex and engaging creature, that strange hobbit called Gollum. Almost, one could say, as soon as Gollum and the Ring appear, The Lord of the Rings is inevitable, for the two stimulate and deepen Tolkien's imagination, in the direction of a complex Secondary World, more than any other of the inventions in The Hobbit. With Gollum and the Ring is the beginning of Tolkien's exploration of the puzzlement and fascination of evil; with Gollum especially, Tolkien has hit upon his most complex representative figure of the satanic in Middle-earth, and one that will grow very quickly in his imagination into the never-seen title figure of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron the Great. Sauron, like Gollum, is a figure of immense age, once not evil to behold, who has lost something of incalculable importance to him and whose life's object is to get it back again. Clearly the distant but still recognizable model for Sauron (and even Gollum) is Milton's Satan, likewise a creature of immense age and former beauty, who has lost heaven and must forever seek to regain it, but just as clearly the imaginative transformation of the model has been very great…. With immense modesty and perspicuity, Tolkien has recognized the limits of his rich but narrow genius and keeps Sauron in the background, a hovering and unimaginable symbol of irredeemable evil, and gives us in the foreground only a worm's-eye view of wickedness, Sauron's wretched servant Gollum, who also has lost the precious Ring, and must again find it or be forever gnawed by its desire. (pp. 32-3)

It is hardly too much to say that Gollum and the Ring are the central figures in the history of the unraveling of The Lord of the Rings in Tolkien's imagination, the roots that fed the imaginative growth of Middle-earth from leaf to cosmos. (p. 33)

[Tolkien] changes on discovering his central symbol, his imagination grows and deepens, and even The Hobbit, in its later parts, feels the effects of the discovery of the Ring; it remains a children's book, narrow in moral range, but the tone shifts, and a greater sense of the possibilities of good and evil seems to erupt from the underside of Tolkien's imagination. First of all, the frequent authorial intrusions that mar the early part of the book change to direct comments with a much flattened angle of address—the audience seems taller now…. (p. 35)

One explanation for the tonal shift in The Hobbit, though far too simplistic to suffice, tells part of the truth. As in all books, form is, after all, content, style is substance, and a hobbit of the Shire, even one with Tookish blood, is, literally, the same height as the young audience of his story (three feet, sometimes approaching four), and until he grows in metaphoric stature (and his growth is the theme of the story), puzzled disorientation must be called "flummoxed," and an angry curse will be mouthed as "confusticate and bebother." As Bilbo grows, so do Tolkien's style and imagination.

But even if we reject as fanciful the notion that the maturation of Tolkien's style is the objective correlative of Bilbo's growth to heroic stature, and even as we grant that a tonal shift is the sign of something more important than a developing technique, we must accept the obvious, that Tolkien did, somewhere about midpoint in the story, begin adjusting his tone with more skill. The first half of The Hobbit has only one tone—jocular down-talk—but the second becomes increasingly complex tonally. (pp. 35-6)

Tolkien's development as a prose stylist, Bilbo's growth toward heroic stature, Thorin's deepening character—here are the main, interrelated signs of the beginning of the depth and complexity of The Lord of the Rings, and the beginning as well of the one theme in The Hobbit with adult moral interest: the nature and meaning of power. (It is, of course, no accident that this is also a central theme in The Hobbit's sequel.) It is, perhaps, a theme one would expect to find in any account of a fictional world, but it is one Tolkien only slowly grew toward. He had first to learn that a serious and important theme could be dealt with in a mythological narrative—in this case the theme was maturation. Next he learned, and again rather slowly, that serious themes could be dealt with in such a narrative seriously rather than whimsically or patronizingly. Then, at the end of The Hobbit, he learned one more lesson as he imaginatively explored the final growth and greatness of Thorin and Bilbo. He had to grasp the significance of the one great theme that differentiates the otherwise identical plot shells of the narratives of Bilbo and Frodo: the courageous renunciation of power. It is this theme that ennobles The Lord of the Rings, animating and supporting its far greater dignity and seriousness. For while both books are built upon the ancient structure of the quest, both concerned with the central plot of the maturation of an untried and apparently weak hero, they are differentiated in one great way: The Hobbit is a quest to get something, The Lord of the Rings a quest to renounce something. Tolkien is in the process of discovering that theme of renunciation in the final pages of his children's book. The minor expression of the theme in The Hobbit is Thorin's renunciation of his kingly pride and greed just before his death; the major expression is Bilbo's giving up the Arkenstone, an act directly foreshadowing Frodo's greatness in renouncing the Ring. (pp. 37-8)

[Tolkien's] real discovery is, of course, not the theme of the hero—that is ancient indeed—his real discovery is the thrilling potential of the mythic imagination, that it can tell us things about ourselves and our world we may not know in another way, things we need deeply. (p. 52)

[We] cannot take The Hobbit by itself, for it stands at the threshold of one of the most immense and satisfying imaginative creations of our time, The Lord of the Rings. The real importance of The Hobbit is what its creator learned in the writing. As Bilbo Baggins grew up, so did Tolkien's imagination. The childlike evocations of shivery evil in Bilbo's adventures awoke in Tolkien a sudden and disturbing perception of genuine evil and of the heroism it must elicit. So we have to begin again with The Hobbit, seeing it in the perspective it deserves, as an initiation (both Tolkien's and Bilbo's) into the perilous world of Faërie, a world Tolkien only slowly discovered and only with much labor gave, in turn, to us. (pp. 52-3)

The children's book began as a symmetrical quest-tale ("There and Back Again," its subtitle) about entering, grasping, and returning, but it grew into a story not about grasping but about renouncing, and thus in its own context turned out to be an asymmetrical plot. When, however, we place the end of The Hobbit up against the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, we indeed find a structural symmetry: a symmetry of renunciation. (p. 54)

Having discovered his pattern and his theme in The Hobbit, and their great potentials, Tolkien set about telling the same story again in The Lord of the Rings, yet with a difference…. The Lord of the Rings is not exclusively in the initiatory mode of The Hobbit, is not, that is, merely a book addressed to children, symbolically expressing their fears and wishes about growing up. The Hobbit is pure myth of maturation, with no other overlay of "meaning." The Lord of the Rings, however, despite Tolkien's demurrer that it has no "inner meaning or 'message',"… has a definite mythic argument and a positive moral and aesthetic, even a "political" program. In his children's story, Tolkien does little more than bore down to the artesian archetype and let it flow. But the more it flowed, the more he recognized the potential greatness of his theme and that the mythic devices he had rediscovered could, rightly used, be a searching and a healing tool. So in a generation that had forgotten the power and value of myth, he set about creating a group of myths of central concern to our age. (pp. 54-5)

Tolkien … [reasserts] the supreme importance of the myth-making imagination and [provides] in the process, a set of myths that express, more fully than the works of any other contemporary writer I know, a complex of otherwise inexpressible emotions riving the breasts of a whole generation of readers. (p. 55)

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has symbolically expressed our situation in a strikingly profound and useful set of myths that can evoke and pattern a healing emotional response to literary situations deeply symbolic of our own. We must carefully note that the Rings patterns a response to its own situation, not directly to ours. Literature gives no direct moral answers, it only exercises and enriches the wisdom of spirit that must ponder and respond to its own dilemmas. Tolkien himself has seen the possibilities for finding simple-minded allegory in his work and has repeatedly insisted that the Ring is not the atom bomb and the War of the Rings is not World War II. We need not doubt his sincerity; a powerful symbol is not the allegorical equivalent of a single technological item. The Ring does not equal the Bomb, but is rather a symbol for the entire complex fact that twentieth-century man has, like Frodo, suddenly found himself, without wanting it, without even guessing it would find a way into his pocket, in possession of a power over nature so immense even the desire to use it will inevitably corrupt his soul. And again, like Frodo, he would really rather throw the whole thing into the sea and forget it, but knows he cannot. Here we arrive at a perception of one of Tolkien's supremely valuable contributions to the imaginative health of us all—what I have called the anti-Faustian myth. (pp. 59-60)

Tolkien is indeed a keen analyst of the modern psyche and its need for realignment with the natural world; he was one of the first to grasp that everything depends on whether we can adjust our ego-ideals away from the Faustian and toward whatever it is Frodo represents—Frodo anti-Faust but by no means Frodo anti-hero. Frodo is hero, but surely that word must undergo some radical changes in meaning to be applicable to a three-foot-high bundle of timidity with furry feet. This indeed is another of Tolkien's gifts to us in The Lord of the Rings—a profound criticism and revaluation of the meaning of heroic behavior. (p. 61)

[Part] of the reason Tolkien's vision is so necessary to so many is that it provides a richly satisfying experience of a fully worked out mythological perception of radical evil. Tolkien's particular myth parallels his Christianity, positing a malevolent and corrupting outside influence, spiritual and probably eternal, against which man is doomed to fight, but which he has no hope of conquering on his own—Sauron the Great, Lord of the Rings. (p. 67)

Randel Helms, in his Tolkien's World (copyright © 1974 by Randel Helms; reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company), Houghton, 1974.

C. N. Manlove

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[The Lord of the Rings] came just when disillusion among the American young at the Vietnam war and the state of their own country was at a peak. Tolkien's fantasy offered an image of the kind of rural conservationist ideal or escape for which they were looking (it also could be seen as describing, through the overthrow of Sauron, the destruction of the U.S.). In this way The Lord of the Rings could be enlisted in support of passive resistance and idealism on the one hand and of draft-dodging and drugs on the other. A second factor may have been the perennial American longing for roots, a long-tradition and a mythology: these things are the fibre of Tolkien's book, where every place and character is lodged at the tip of an enormous, growing stem of time. (p. 157)

Tolkien's intention in his book was to create a species of heroic epic. (By the word 'intention' here is meant evidence from within the text.) The trilogy has epic scale: we journey over what W. H. Auden tells us is 1,300 miles from the Shire to Mordor, taking in a variety of races and regions on the way…. The sense of extension in space is complemented by one in time: we are made continually aware of thousands of years of the past lying behind the story of the Ring, indeed that the history of its evil maker stretches back into the First Age of Middle-earth. In Frodo's journey, the long ages come to a point, and all Middle-earth is involved in the crisis and the outcome.

Tolkien is trying to write what C. S. Lewis termed 'secondary' epic: that is, one which records a temporal crux, and rests on the assumption that history is not merely cyclic, but directional. Though other evils may come, Sauron is finally destroyed. The historical sense is thus similar to that of the Aeneid in that something permanent is achieved. Unlike the Aeneid, however, Tolkien's work is not so much concerned with beginnings as with endings. It is the close of the Third Age that he chronicles, the final defeat of an ancient antagonist and the subsequent departure of the Elves to the Far West…. The Lord of the Rings is permeated with the sense of an ending.

In keeping with this, Tolkien has set out to give his epic an elegiac character. The story is made heavy with awareness of the past. There is scarcely a mortal character whose descent is not chronicled or a racial history which is not mapped out either in the text or the appendices. The entire journey of the Fellowship lies amidst the relics of long-gone ages and events…. Remembrance of times past is pervasive. Not ten pages can pass without some figure or event from the backward abyss being recalled…. (pp. 171-72)

Part of the aim is to evoke a sense of mortality and the wearing action of time. To heighten this, Tolkien has given varying degrees of longevity to the different races…. The Ring, which can lengthen the life of its wearer (and in the cases of Bilbo and Gollum does so), is the only time-defier in the book, and it is destroyed. Time is indeed in the grain of Tolkien's work, down to our continued sense of the hours of the day, the date and the changing seasons during the quest. (pp. 172-73)

Since the subject of Tolkien's book is meant to be a mortal estate, it is not surprising that he allows no more than a small and rather veiled place to divine agency. (p. 173)

The fewness and the brevity of [the] references to providence are an index to Tolkien's purpose: if he had wanted us to have a sense of some destinal or divine agency at the forefront of our minds in reading his story, he would have stressed it much more than he has. (p. 174)

At the centre of his epic, Tolkien has set out to place an ethic of heroic endeavour: the Ring-bearer against the whole might of Sauron. Yet he has chosen no conventional hero, no Beowulf nor Aeneas nor Roland of almost unthinking honour or courage, but a little man, a four-foot halfling of a race happiest just to eat and sleep. The idea is to give us in Frodo a protagonist who grows into being a hero as his journey proceeds. It is here that Tolkien's problems begin. (pp. 174-75)

Any conception of a hero demands that the hero's actions be substantially based on free choice and human will, and Tolkien certainly seems to have meant this to be a major spring in the action of his fantasy. Frodo's decisions in the Shire and at Rivendell to set out with the Ring are arranged to appear acts of independent resolution: in each case he is presented with the facts and we are to believe that he has a choice between the comforts of staying and the rigours of going which he alone must decide. (pp. 174-75)

Free choice is not meant to be the sole key to the action of Tolkien's book. Frodo, after all, is chosen to carry the Ring; and on one occasion Gandalf says that '"only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero."' … Nevertheless, whether by heroic or any other standards, free will must have a substantial part to play if the story is not to make mortals into puppets.

In fact, however, we find that this last is just what has happened. (p. 176)

The simple fact is that Tolkien was trying to write a novel as well as an epic, a story of ordinary lives faced with extraordinary demands, and he did not know how to start from cold….

The same problems are present in the body of the work, the account of Frodo's journey. Even allowing, for Tolkien's benefit, that Frodo is a free agent capable of real choices, there are several factors in the narrative which restrict our sense of this. No one will deny that from Frodo's point of view there are difficulties—the long hike, the constant dangers, the burden of the Ring: but from the reader's vantage point these obstacles are less real than they should be.

For one thing, Frodo always chooses correctly; and if he is in doubt, as he is at Parth Galen whether to go to Minas Tirith or Mordor, he is pushed into making the right decision (there by the attempt on the Ring by Boromir). The result of a string of correct choices is that the reader gets a sense of inevitability: the possibility of making a wrong choice recedes to vanishing point, and with it the very idea of choice. Nor is turning back ever temptation enough to force a real dilemma: it occasionally lures, but is readily forgotten, and attention settles back in its groove. (p. 177)

Not once does Frodo doubt that all that Gandalf has said about the evil nature of the Ring is right. He is not tempted for an instant by Boromir's suggestion that it is all surmise. In fact he is scarcely tempted at all: there is no such thing as a good and a bad side of his nature that he must choose between; and this is nowhere more evident than in the contradictory account of the power of the Ring. The Ring, we are told, corrupts: it excites in all who have it or come near it a sense of power; and though this urge may at first be good, it swiftly degenerates into pride and rapacity…. Yet Frodo, its bearer, is never tempted by this aspect of the Ring save at the very last moment, when his heavily-emphasized past mercies to Gollum immediately save him from the consequences. Nor does the fact that he is a simple hobbit make him immune: Sam is tempted on the walls of Mordor—and Tolkien is hard put to find good reason for his not falling…. (p. 178)

The Ring also tries to force its owner to use it, but here the assault is portrayed as more magical than spiritual. (pp. 178-79)

Tolkien is unhappy with the whole idea of inner conflict. (p. 179)

What has happened in the Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien has turned from the scheme of inner conflict—which both his conception of a protagonist unequal to the task and the whole idea of the Ring of Power demand—to a ready-made heroic psychology where struggle is with external forces—the Ring and Sauron's powers. There are several possible explanations of this. His reluctance to show Frodo or any of the other good characters as truly tempted may be accounted for by his normally absolute distinctions between good and evil (to show the good tempted would be to show them morally mixed); and this distinction may in turn stem from his concept of 'Recovery' [from his essay "On Fairy Stories" in Tree and Leaf], which requires the portrayal of things in their pure and unalloyed states. Explanation might also be found in another aspect of 'Recovery': the demonstration that things really are separate from us, 'no more yours than they [are] you' …, in this sense Tolkien's fantasy celebrates the objective, not the subjective world—or, as he says, he is 'primarily interested in Faërie, not tortured mortals.'… This last point is part of a belief that the nature of fantasy is opposed to the sort of character-delineation and 'internal' narrative that has its place in the novel or drama. Equally, of course, so does the nature of heroic epic as Tolkien knows it: there the hero rarely doubts his purpose or is seen to struggle with himself, and conflict is with something external to him—be it the purposes of a deity, a monster or simply human enemies. (p. 180)

If then struggle with the self is to be abandoned as the basis of Frodo's heroism, let us consider how far the idea of an externalized conflict, as in heroic epic, between a fully resolved soul and vicissitude can be taken seriously as the ethical basis of The Lord of the Rings.

There is a glaring feature of Tolkien's fantasy which critics have tended to play down or ignore, and which removes almost all possibility of regarding Frodo or anyone else in the book with any seriousness as a hero: the continued presence of a biased fortune. (pp. 180-81)

It may be true that from the point of view of the characters themselves, the constant assistance is not expected, and that to themselves, their fear and courage are real; but for the reader, who sees that it is not mortal will but luck which is the architect of success, the struggles with the evil forces become unreal, mere posturings in a rigged bout. And even if one were to argue that destiny or the Valar were the cause (which as we have seen there seems little justification for doing), this would only give a metaphysical base to what would remain a desertion of the heroic ethic. (p. 183)

The problem is not only one of Tolkien's having failed with the heroism and mortal will he set out to put at the centre of his fantasy: it is a problem too of the truth of his work to the fundamental character of reality. W. H. Auden said of the imaginary world.

Its history may be unusual but it must not contradict our notion of what history is, an interplay of Fate, Choice, and Chance. Lastly, it must not violate our moral experience … The triumph of Good over Evil which the successful achievement of the Quest implies must appear historically possible, not a daydream. Physical and, to a considerable extent, intellectual power must be shown as what we know them to be, morally neutral and effectively real: battles are won by the stronger side, be it good or evil.

It is precisely these features which The Lord of the Rings lacks. Auden's concluding assertion that no Quest Tale does 'more justice to our experience of social-historical realities than The Lord of the Rings' [see CLC, Vol. 1] simply does not stand up to the facts…. A sense of inevitability comes over the reader: nothing is at risk, nothing can be lost; Frodo is home and dry under the umbrella of authorial fortune. (pp. 183-84)

Tolkien could have given us some significant instances of bad luck in his fantasy to convince us that fate is impartial. His refusal to do this is part of a more general weakness in The Lord of the Rings. He is simply not prepared to allow any really telling loss or vicissitude into the book. (p. 185)

[Though] he has set out to put free will and heroism at the centre of his fantasy, Tolkien has ended by cancelling them with luck; though he intends a picture of evil as continuous and no victory final, he gives us an absolute happy ending; though meant as a true elegy The Lord of the Rings gives only portable woes.

The weakness in Tolkien's fantasy is however not simply a matter of the author having slid away from the demands of his vision: it is also the result of an attraction towards something. At the centre of the book are Mordor and Sauron: not only in that they are the goal towards which the Ring-bearer is moving (though this arrangement of the plot is in its own way significant), but in that Tolkien has realized them far more vividly than anything he gives us to oppose to them. What we have is, unknown to the author, an imaginative imbalance: good is supposed to overcome evil, but since it is less real to us, its victory does not convince. (p. 191)

Tolkien has done what Milton is sometimes accused of having done: he has unconsciously let the weight of his imagination fall on the wrong side. There is nothing to balance the Dark Lord, no opponent, whether Gandalf or the scarce-mentioned Valar, to whom he has given any corre-sponding mystical presence. Once in Mordor the thought comes to Sam the hobbit that 'in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach' (III, 199); but it remains only a single fleeting thought, of which nothing is made.

It is worth noticing that Tolkien's book sets out to be about Sauron: it calls itself The Lord of the Rings. No one else but the Dark Lord can be described by this title. Others cannot master the One Ring, but can only struggle against becoming slaves to it. The book is therefore entitled 'Sauron', and this suggests that somehow Tolkien felt the darker side of the story more meaningful to him personally. (pp. 192-93)

The weakness of the characterization in Tolkien's fantasy frustrates one of his primary aims. For he set out to recover for us in his book a freshness of vision which we are without; and if there is no vision, there can be no freshness. The way the characters tend to run together into a nondescript soup is also precisely counter to the moral polarity he has set up within his fantasy. His picture of the alliance of the peoples of Middle-earth against Sauron is one of a cooperative effort by different races, each with a separate identity, in which the author at least goes through the motions of taking a delight. It is precisely that they retain their generic individualities in coming together that should define the good; and under Sauron and the power of the Ring that identity should fade…. (pp. 200-01)

After [Tolkien's] failure with style, we are left only with what one might call the fantasist's 'long-stop': the mythic base, if any, of the book. Here, however, one must be wary of C. S. Lewis' insistence … that where a myth or some archetypal posture is present in a work, that work necessarily merits our reverence. There does seem to be a glimmer in Tolkien's book of a myth which is more definitely at the back of Paradise Lost: the idea of the minute yet enormously powerful Ring with its frail bearer, the long and difficult journey to enclosed Mordor and the casting of the Ring into the mountain suggests a process of fertilization. Of course there are inconsistencies: throwing the Ring into Orodruin results in destruction, not creation, and unless we are to grant an incest motif, a spermatozoon does not return to its ultimate point of origin. Nevertheless the basic pattern of the story does hint at this image.

There are further drawbacks to The Lord of the Rings, not the least of which, given the flabbiness of material, and allowing for the sense of scale demanded by epic, is its length. The epithet 'endless worm' coined by one critic seems only too apt. Doubtless there is such a thing as the sheer number of pages the reader has had to turn that can add poignancy to the story—one almost feels this is the case as we come to the great close of Malory's epic. But not with Tolkien's book, for we have never been very much involved anyway. Perhaps also the length of the story and the time he took to write it go some way towards explaining his failure of detachment: his involvement in Middle-earth may well have increased in direct proportion to the time and space at his disposal. Certainly he manages to avoid this fault in his short stories.

What then are we to make of Tolkien's book? From the evidence now assembled it can be concluded that none of 'Consolation', 'Fantasy' and 'Secondary Belief', nor 'Recovery' (and by further implication 'Escape') can properly emerge from this work: the first because nothing is at risk; the second two because in many basic features the book does not keep to its own terms, and thus is without the 'inner consistency of reality' on which they depend; and the others because for the most part the style is weak and bloodless.

It would be easy to conclude that all this results from Tolkien's having been sentimental, evasive and morally uncertain as a man and inadequate as an artist. Yet the weakness of The Lord of the Rings may equally come from the fact that he did not express himself fully. The book was largely born out of a reaction against the modern world in which he lived: nostalgia and wish-fulfilment, which were only one part of Tolkien the man, are its essence. That there was more to the author than the work shows can be argued from its very poverty of realization: Tolkien may have found that the good, the beautiful and the age-old did not excite him so much or so plainly as he liked to believe. It is possible that his work becomes facile and weak because of an over-simple judgement on the modern world which is its source and end. The Lord of the Rings would thus be a picture rather of Tolkien's uncertainty than of Tolkien himself. (pp. 205-06)

C. N. Manlove, "J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973) and 'The Lord of the Rings'," in his Modern Fantasy: Five Studies (© Cambridge University Press 1975), Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 152-206.

Dorothy Matthews

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1309

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has received very little serious critical attention other than as the precursor of The Lord of the Rings. It has usually been praised as a good introduction to the trilogy, and as a children's book, but anyone familiar with psychoanalysis cannot avoid being tantalized by recurrent themes and motifs in the three stories. Bilbo's story has surprising depths that can be plumbed by the reader who is receptive to psychoanalytic interpretations.

The central pattern of The Hobbit is, quite obviously, a quest. Like so many heroes before him, Bilbo sets out on a perilous journey, encounters and overcomes many obstacles (including a confrontation with a dragon) and returns victorious after he has restored a kingdom and righted ancient wrongs. However, this pattern is so commonplace in literature that it is not a very helpful signpost. But it may help in other ways.

Let us first look briefly at The Hobbit for its folk ingredients, that is, the common motifs or story elements which it shares with folk narratives. There are, of course, the creatures themselves: dwarves, elves, trolls, animal servants, helpful birds and, the most frequently recurring of all folk adversaries, the treasure-guarding dragon. There are magic objects in abundance: a ring of invisibility, secret entrances into the underworld, magic swords, and doors into mountains. Dreams foretell and taboos admonish, the violation of which could bring dire results.

There are tasks to be performed, riddles to solve, and foes to be outwitted or outfought. Folk motifs form the very warp and woof in the texture of this tale, which is not surprising since Tolkien, as a medievalist, is immersed in folk tradition, a tradition that gives substance not only to the best known epics but to most medieval narratives and to "fairy tales."

In fact, it is probably its resemblance to what today's readers see as the nursery tale that has resulted in The Hobbit being relegated to elementary school shelves. (pp. 29-30)

But even if The Hobbit is only a children's story, it should be analyzed more closely for deeper levels of meaning, for it is the kind of story that has provided the most profound insights into the human psyche. (p. 31)

Bilbo Baggins' journey [is] a metaphor for the individuation process, his quest … a search for maturity and wholeness, and his adventures … symbolically detailed rites of maturation….

[At] the beginning of the tale, Bilbo's personality is out of balance and far from integrated. His masculinity, or one may say his Tookish aggressiveness, is being repressed so that he is clinging rather immaturely to a childish way of life. He has not even begun to realize his full potential. The womblike peace and security of his home is disturbed with the arrival of Gandalf, who may be seen as a projection of the Jungian archetype of the "wise old man" since he resembles the magic helper of countless stories…. (p. 33)

At the outset of their adventure, Bilbo, like a typical young adolescent, is uncertain of his role, or "persona," to use a Jungian term. (p. 34)

One of the most crucial incidents of the story takes place when Bilbo finds himself unconscious and separated from the dwarves within the mountain domain of the goblins. In this underground scene he must face an important trial; he must make a decision whose outcome will be a measure of his maturity…. With unprecedented courage he decides to face life rather than to withdraw from it. This decision marks an important step in his psychological journey.

The danger he decides to face at this time, of course, is Gollum, the vaguely sensed but monstrous inhabitant of the underground lake. The association of this adversary with water and the attention given to his long grasping fingers and voracious appetite suggest a similarity to Jung's Devouring-Mother archetype, that predatory monster which must be faced and slain by every individual in the depths of his unconscious if he is to develop as a self-reliant individual. The fact that the talisman is a ring is even more suggestive of Jungian symbology since the circle is a Jungian archetype of the self—the indicator of possible psychic wholeness. The psychological importance of this confrontation is further supported by the imagery of the womb and of rebirth which marks the details of Bilbo's escape. (pp. 34-5)

Whether the spider with whom Bilbo battles is interpreted as a Jungian shadow figure, embodying evil, or as the Devouring-Mother facet of the anima is immaterial. The symbolism is clear without specific terms: a lone protagonist must free himself from a menacing opponent that has the power to cripple him forever. With the aid of a miraculously acquired sword and a magic talisman, he is able to face the danger and overcome it. (p. 37)

From this point on, Bilbo has the self-esteem needed to fulfill his responsibilities as a mature and trustworthy leader. It is through his ingenuity that they escape from the dungeon prisons in the subterranean halls of the wood-elves. This last episode also reveals telling symbolic details in that the imprisonment is underground and the escape through a narrow outlet into the water is yet another birth image.

The climactic adventures of Bilbo are of course the episodes with Smaug who, like the traditional dragon of folklore, has laid waste the land and is guarding a treasure. If viewed in the light of Jungian symbology, the contested treasure can be seen as the archetype of the self, of psychic wholeness. Thus this last series of events marks the final stages of Bilbo's quest of maturation. (pp. 38-9)

A truly critical question arises in considering [the incident where Bilbo acquires the Arkenstone] and the remainder of the story. I have taught this work many times and am constantly hearing complaints of dissatisfaction from students who feel that the last part of the book is both puzzling and anticlimactic. Many report that they felt a real loss of interest while reading the final chapters. Why does Bilbo keep the Arkenstone without telling the dwarves and then use it as a pawn in dealing with their enemies? Why, they ask, did Tolkien have a rather uninteresting character, rather than Bilbo, kill Smaug? Why is Bilbo, the previous center of interest, knocked unconscious so that he is useless during the last Battle of Five Armies? Isn't it a fault in artistic structure to allow the protagonist to fade from the picture during episodes when the normal expectation would be to have him demonstrate even more impressive heroism?

Answers to these questions are clear if the story is interpreted as the psychological journey of Bilbo Baggins. It stands to reason that Tolkien does not have Bilbo kill the dragon because that would be more the deed of a savior or culture hero, such as St. George, or the Red Cross Knight, or Beowulf. The significance of this tale lies in fact in the very obviously anti-heroic manner in which Tolkien chooses to bring Bilbo's adventures to a conclusion. As a result, Bilbo emerges as a symbol of a very average individual, not as a figure of epic proportion. Bilbo has not found eternal glory, but, rather, the self-knowledge that a willingness to meet challenge is not necessarily incompatible with a love of home…. [At] the conclusion of his adventures Bilbo finds the greatest prize of all: a knowledge of his own identity. In maturing psychologically, he has learned to think for himself and to have the courage to follow a course he knows to be right—in spite of possible repercussions. (pp. 40-1)

Dorothy Matthews, "The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins," in A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell (reprinted from A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell by permission of The Open Court Publishing Company, LaSalle, Illinois; copyright © 1975 by The Open Court Publishing Company), Open Court, 1975, pp. 29-42.

Deborah C. Rogers

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1358

[The] hobbits are the race par excellence in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. One can tell this in part because Tolkien uses their point of view, but even more because he obviously likes them very much indeed, and without evading their shortcomings in his portrayal. I can also tell from a letter which Tolkien sent me in 1958, in which he said, "I am in fact a hobbit."

So what are hobbits like, these original and most important creatures of Tolkien's? Their main qualities are apparent: they are small, provincial, and comfort-loving. (p. 71)

[Hobbits] are the aspect of humanity which I have dubbed, for the purposes of this paper, Everyclod—unjustly, of course. For as we all know, "there is more to them than meets the eye."

Tolkien has done his portraiture finely. We are all in some way small, provincial, and comfort-loving—and we see ourselves as such. At first we like to imagine ourselves as heroes, but experience makes us sceptical; we become convinced that, in fairness, we are not heroes…. One of the notable features of twentieth century literature is the antihero; Northrop Frye's ironic literary mode has taken over our everyday lives. Everyclod is at the center of our vision, which has become cloddish.

But this is not Tolkien's mode. One of the reasons he is likable and unusual among contemporary authors is that he does not focus on the cloddish, though he does focus on hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are all to a greater or lesser extent billed as Everyclod at the beginnings of their stories, but as we know, each of them becomes a hero…. With the hobbits, what Tolkien shows us is that, and how, Everyclod really is Everyhero, and can develop his heroic nature when the need arises.

Hobbits, then, are Tolkien's primary picture of Man. But then, what of the characters he portrays as men, members of the human race? (pp. 71-3)

Tolkien's human race, in the specimens we encounter, has much more variety than any of the other races…. The first thing to be said of the human race, in Tolkien's portrait, is that it is capable of any act: treachery, warcraft, gentleness, domesticity, adventurousness, or poetry. And this leaves us where we were before: hobbits are Tolkien's basic kind of people, and the human race is too various to abstract a composite picture from its members and say, This is Tolkien's man.

In that case, look again. What if, instead of seeking a composite picture, we look for a representative? Can we say that in all this variety of men, there is one man par excellence? Of course we can. Obviously, Tolkien's man par excellence is Aragorn. So let us consider him and see what he adds to Tolkien's picture of humanity. So far, we have the image of Everyclod with Everyhero sleeping inside him. Aragorn is a hero already, and what sleeps in him is kingship. (p. 73)

Tolkien's man par excellence is very different from his race par excellence. Aragorn must, so to speak, "refer" to a different aspect of humanity from the hobbits, who (as we have seen) refer to Everyclod, the individual who has heroic potential. (p. 74)

But, what is Aragorn about? What other aspect of man is so important? There is his bad side, but Strider does not represent that, despite the mixed impressions created by his first appearance. Evils are amply covered by orcs, Saruman, Ted Sandyman, and so on. Nor does Aragorn represent our Everyclod aspect, even with its latent heroism, for his heroism is not latent. He is a heroic hero, the sort we feel shy of identifying ourselves with. He is a heroic hero, and more than that, the king: the epitome of his race, and in that sense its representative.

But look at the condition this king is in throughout most of the story: he is not in his rightful place, and he is surrounded by symbols of a realm not in its rightful order. The throne is vacant. A steward governs in the city of Gondor, whose name is no longer the Tower of the Setting Sun but the Tower of Guard. In the city houses stand empty. The White Tree is withered. The sword Narsil is broken. Aragorn is the king's heir, but he is in exile from his realm. He is engaged to Arwen, but they are not married. In fact, the first time we see her, at a feast, he is closeted in council elsewhere.

By the conclusion of the story, these conditions are all set right: Narsil is reforged as Anduril; a seedling of the Tree is found; the city is on its way to being rebuilt and repopulated; Aragorn and Arwen are married and reigning. This is Tolkien's fortunate resolution, or if you will, happy ending.

Do we know anyone else who is out of his rightful position, whose restoration would be a fortunate event? Yes, we do. It is not you or me or him or her (Farmer Maggot, or Rosie Cotton); it is us.

Now I shall refer to Christian doctrine, which we have inherited in the form of Judeo-Christian myth. Tolkien is a Christian himself, and a look at this body of beliefs throws light on his story at this point. The rightful position of man is to be the ruling creature on this planet, to administer it in the best interests of all the local creatures, and God's viceroy. As you know, man now occupies only a parody of this position: he is the ruling creature here, but he kills his own kind and other creatures and damages and exploits the planet.

In the history of mankind, there are two men par excellence whom it behooves us to consider while talking of Aragorn: Adam, and Christ, who is called the new Adam.

Adam was set at his creation into the kingly position I have described. And he failed. And all his descendants after him have been dislocated from our place on earth. Adam (and in him all mankind) is parallel to Aragorn in that both are exiles. But Aragorn does not fail. He bides his time, works, follows his opportunities, resists temptations, and brings all the realm to good. Notice that he can only do this in cooperation with Everyclod—in fact, with all good creatures.

Tom Bombadil, by the way, has been called [by Alexis Levitin] "the unfallen Adam." This is a perceptive appellation. I don't mean Tolkien said to himself, "Now I will put in a prelapsarian"; but surely Adam in Eden must have been similar in many ways to Tom as described: the master of all natural things, but not their owner…. But Adam fell, and his race's predicament follows from that. Tom is a survivor from another age, and peripheral to the War of the Ring, while the king in exile is central to it. (pp. 74-5)

Aragorn's kingdom is of this world. He is born to reign in Middle-earth. Aragorn is parallel to Christ only in that each of them is the man of good events in his story, not in the kind of fortunate conclusion they bring. True, they have some manifestations in common: most noticeably, each can heal the sick and each is crowded upon by the sick in consequence. I do not think one need make much to-do about a Biblical parallel, on the crowding: it is only a piece of realism. If there is a healer, he will be pestered; think of the proverbial doctor at the cocktail party.

Aragorn's good work, then, is that of the restoration of the king on earth. And this is a type, a figure, a symbol, of the happy turnabout of the restoration of man as a race. Individually, we are hobbits; collectively, we are Aragorn. (p. 76)

Deborah C. Rogers, "Everyclod and Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien," in A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell (reprinted from A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell by permission of The Open Court Publishing Company, La Salle, Illinois; copyright © 1975 by The Open Court Publishing Company), Open Court, 1975, pp. 69-76.

John Gardner

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 788

If "The Hobbit" is a lesser work than the Ring trilogy because it lacks the trilogy's high seriousness, the collection that makes up "The Silmarillion" stands below the trilogy because much of it contains only high seriousness; that is, here Tolkien cares more about the meaning and coherence of his myth than he does about these glories of the trilogy: rich characterization, imagistic brillance, powerfully imagined and detailed sense of place, and thrilling adventure. Not that those qualities are entirely lacking here. The central tale, "The Silmarillion"—though not the others—has a wealth of vivid and interesting characters, and all the tales are lifted above the ordinary by Tolkien's devil figures, Melkor, later called Morgoth, his great dragon Glaurung, and Morgoth's successor Sauron. Numerous characters here have interest, almost always because they work under some dark fate, struggling against destiny and trapping themselves; but none of them smokes a pipe, none wears a vest, and though each important character has his fascinating quirks, the compression of the narrative and the fierce thematic focus give Tolkien no room to develop and explore those quirks as he does in the trilogy.

Character is at the heart of the Ring trilogy: the individual's voluntary service of good or evil within an unfated universe. The subject of "The Silmarillion" is older, more heroic; the effect on individuals of the struggle of two great forces, the divine order and rebellious individualism that flows through Morgoth. (p. 1)

Music is the central symbol and the total myth of "The Silmarillion," a symbol that becomes interchangeable with light (music's projection). The double symbol is introduced at once in the creation of myth, "Ainulindale."…

Tolkien's vision in this book is a curious blend of things modern and things medieval. What is modern is for the most part the tawdriest of the modern—not that one cares, since Tolkien's vision transforms and redeems it. Walt Disney is everywhere, though his work may have had less influence on Tolkien than did that of equally childlike artists, such as Aubrey Beardsley. Tolkien's language is the same phony Prince Valiant language of the worst Everyman translations and modernizations—things like: "Death you have earned with these words; and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath in haste; of which I repent, baseborn mortal, who in the realm of Morgoth has learnt to creep in secret as his spies and thralls." But one pushes aside all such objections, because the fact is that Tolkien's vision is philosophically and morally powerful, and if some of the fabric in which he clothes the vision is bargain-basement, he has greatly elevated it by his art.

What is medieval in Tolkien's vision is his set of organizing principles, his symbolism and his pattern of legends and events. (p. 39)

As he borrows the organizing principles and symbols of medieval poets and philosophers, Tolkien borrows the standard legends of characters tricked by fate, characters damned by their own best (or worst) intentions, characters who found proper atonement. His characters are of course new, but their problems are standard, archetypal…. In all these stories there are splendid moments, luminous descriptions of the kind that enrich the Ring trilogy, moments of tenderness, though rarely moments of humor.

But in "The Silmarillion" what is finally most moving is not the individual legends but the total vision, the eccentric heroism of Tolkien's attempt. What Tolkien lacks that his medieval model possessed is serene Christian confidence. Despite the affirmation of his creation legend, Tolkien's universe is never safe like Chaucer's. The Providential plan seems again and again to hang by a thread above bottom-less pits of disaster. Tolkien, in other words, has taken on the incredible task of seeking to rejuvenate the medieval Christian way of seeing and feeling, although—as all his legends reiterate—we can no longer see clearly (the songs of the elves are now all but forgotten, as was the First Age in the Ring trilogy) and our main feeling is now tragic dread.

Strange man! Strange mind! Why would anyone do it, we keep asking as we read. Why create a whole Christianlike religion, a whole new creation myth to set beside those of the Greeks, the Jews, the Northmen and the rest? Why write a mythic history, a Bible? Nevertheless, he has tried to do just that…. (pp. 39-40)

Art, of course, is a way of thinking, a way of mining reality. In the Ring trilogy, Tolkien went after reality through philosophy-laden adventure. In "The Silmarillion," for better or worse, he has sought to mine deeper. (p. 40)

John Gardner, "The World of Tolkien," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 23, 1977, pp. 1, 39-40.

Robert M. Adams

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The Silmarillion, despite the cuts that have evidently been made in the original materials, the selection and arrangement that have been imposed on them, remains an empty and pompous bore. There are epic elements in it, but they have been smothered by an overgrowth of genealogy.

The narrative is not in itself very sturdy. Oaths, feuds, sword fights, lost cities, doomed lovers, and ill-starred friendships abound; but there is a dearth of characters and an oversupply of stereotypes. The familiar Tolkien division prevails between level-eyed, steely-but-gentle good guys, and snarling, black-minded bad guys; but the action remains exterior and mechanical. Above all, Tolkien has a fascination with names for their own sake that will probably seem excessive to anyone whose favorite light reading is not the first book of Chronicles….

Such a barricade of grotesque and semi-pronounceable names is no small obstacle to a venturesome reader; but in fact the names are also a good part of the book's reward. Like the portmanteau words of "Jabberwocky" or the deeper and more violent conglomerates of Finnegans Wake, many of them sink into the mind, disintegrating the smooth and accepted conventions of everyday English to memorable effect. The dragon Smaug, the wicked and menacing Nazgûl, the Ents of Fangorn—such rich and mouthy names keep the mind busy tangling and untangling their phonemes. But when one has to keep Elendë (which is a name of Eldamar) distinct from Elendil the son of Amandil, and both distinct from Elendur the son of Isildur, while Elrond, Elros, Eluréd, and Elurín hover in the neighborhood, the effect is an irritating blur. (p. 22)

There's no need to dwell longer on the deficiencies of this latest volume, for which hardly anybody has had a good word to say…. The Silmarillion is a commercial and perhaps a social phenomenon of some interest, but not a literary event of any magnitude. The books which draw it along in their wake are another matter entirely. The appeal they exercise is deep as well as wide, and is based on their real literary qualities, not simply the quirks and fads of the popular mind. Still, they are very uneven books, both when compared to one another, and in their different parts as well. (p. 23)

[The] success of Tolkien's books may need no more explanation than this, that they contain a number of extremely good stories which many readers seem to be encountering for the first time. The books are a pastiche of stories and scenes in which the reader encounters motifs from Genesis and Revelation, bits of Beowulf, snatches of Wagner, pieces of Malory and of Macpherson's Ossian, fragments of the sagas, Gaelic legends, Breton lays, elements of the Poema del Cid, the Chanson de Roland, Orlando Furioso, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, and more, much, much more. This rich gallimaufry of narrative is softened here and melodramatized there for the modern taste, and exempt by being a fairy tale from merely rational criticism. People who have enjoyed it would be well advised not to try prolonging the pleasure by studying The Silmarillion. Instead, if the thought isn't too solemn, they might try some of the books that Tolkien himself used to construct his Disneyized cycle. (p. 24)

Robert M. Adams, "'The Hobbit' Habit," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1977 Nyrev, Inc.), November 24, 1977, pp. 22-4.

Margery Fisher

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I feel that Tolkien did not revise and add to [The Silmarillion] over the years as an escape, though it does seem in one way to belong to a deep, almost childlike need to fix and possess for ever a part of the English countryside (and in this sense it could be said to bear the same relation to his practical life as "The Wind in the Willows" bore to Kenneth Grahame's.) The clue to reading it can be found, perhaps, in Leaf by Niggle. The Silmarillion is the creation of what Tolkien called a Secondary World, just as much as Lord of the Rings though in a different style. It is a piece of literary invention which depends on semantics rather than on social morality. It is true that the whole work reflects the rise of aggression in gods, elves and men, the effects of greed and the lust for power on races created as generous and civilised beings. Tolkien's experience of the world from the '20's onwards cannot but have affected the book in some measure. But ultimately the struggle for the Silmarils and the Rings of Power exists without moral comment, as the necessary impulse for a story, a work of continuous craftsmanship by which Tolkien earned a place in a long line of story-tellers.

The Silmarillion is a bardic work. Whatever it supplies of background to his other tales, it is narrated as if to a receptive and practised audience. The manner is not unlike that-of Beowulf: the tone is one of celebrating, even of reminding, rather than of explaining. (pp. 3257-58)

Ancient taboos are touched upon in the tale of Beren and Luthien and their fraternal, forbidden love; Germanic folk-tale is recalled in the account of the origin and habitations of Dwarves and in the glimpses of Dragons, Orcs, Balrogs and other monstrous shapes; the ritual words and acts of medieval chivalry add dignity to many scenes of conquest and alliance. The sense of epic immensity is achieved not by mere length in the narrative but in the reiteration of measurements of time, by the way the names of people and places change with certain significant events, and by oratorical passages like the end of the first section:

Here ends the SILMARILLION. If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwe and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos.

In keeping with the epic nature of The Silmarillion, the style is concentrated, with the musical rhythms often giving place to the dry, measured words of a chronicler. Elsewhere, though, there is a plangency and emotional force that belong to high fantasy—for example, in the magnificent description of the engulfing of Numenor or the account of Mirkwood and the coming of the Wizards. This posthumous work of Tolkien's is bound to suffer the attentions of cryptographers, thesis-writers and fanatics in the years to come but with patience and good will the ordinary reader (including many in the 'teens) may obtain from it more true pleasure than they ever will. (pp. 3258-59)

Margery Fisher, in her Growing Point, March, 1978.


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


Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) (Vol. 2)