Term Paper: R.R. Tolkien: The Lord

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[. . .] This is pastoral England restored, the land that Tolkien believed had, in reality, succumbed to the advance of machines and the modern world:

The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in days when motor-cars were rare objects (I had never seen one) and men were still building suburban railways. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important. (FR, 13)

One of the most potent influences on The Lord of the Rings, then, is not any land that actually ever was, but an idealized version of they way the author liked to think it was. The description of the lifestyle of Hobbits in the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring provides a concise summary of the pastoral way of living which Tolkien saw as the ideal:

Hobbits... love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools. (FR, 17)

Tolkien was opposed to the basic assumptions of the twentieth century about technological advance, rationalization, planning, progress; his was an 'antimachinery, antitechnology stance... he denounced the exaltation of mechanization and the narrow definition of economic progress that resulted in the degradation of the natural environment' (Veldman, 90). This is dramatized most clearly in 'The Scouring of the Shire', the penultimate chapter of The Return of the King. Frodo and Sam return, after all their wanderings, to the Shire, to find it grievously changed, with 'old hobbit holes' deserted and 'their little gardens... rank with weeds', trees felled, 'ugly new houses' built, and 'a tall chimney of brick... pouring out black smoke into the evening air' (RK, 344). For Tolkien industrialization, the pollution of the natural world, and the violence of the modern age were all of a piece. In January 1944, Tolkien commented that 'the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter' leaving 'only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful' (Letters, 111). Technology, too, becomes a threatening 'other', an agency of the dark that must be opposed and overcome.

IV. LIGHT AGAINST DARK: WAR AND POLITICS

In his preface to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien explicitly rejected the notion that the national and international situation at the time of his writing the books had any direct influence on the form they took. In particular, he denied that the Second World War had shaped the story in any way: 'Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels' (FR, 11). However, he conceded that 'An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience' while stressing that 'the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex' (FR, 11). A modern critic has made the same point, arguing that influences from the time are clearly present whether or not Tolkien consciously included them as an intentional act. The associations bound to occur to a reader 'with any memory of recent history' who reads Tolkien's work 'do not mean that The Lord of the Rings is a veiled rewrite of recent history' but 'they do mean the pattern discernible within it... can be applied to recent history and indeed to future action' (Shippey, 174).

Critics of Tolkien have not been slow to draw sometimes simplistic parallels between The Lord of the Rings and events in the real world. As early as 1955, Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis was highly critical of those who identified 'the Ring with the hydrogen bomb, and Mordor with Russia' (Isaacs and Zimbardo, 14), and identifications of Mordor with Nazi Germany, Sauron with Hitler and Saruman with Mussolini are equally superficial and inadequate. The parallels are not of such a direct and obvious kind. There is a more generalized expression of Tolkien's own world-view throughout the work, and since this naturally shaped his responses to the events of his life, there are echoes of his reactions to contemporary events in the text of The Lord of the Rings. In a more general sense the story can be said to embody his views about the conflict between light and dark, the nature of modern society, questions of authority, hierarchy and obedience and of the place of conflict and destruction in the great scheme of things - all of which had a bearing upon his view of war in general and the two world wars through which he lived in particular.

Tolkien saw active service in the 1914-18 war, and - like many of his generation - his experience of the First World War greatly influenced the view he took of the Second: 'One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression... To be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years' (FR, 12). The early sections of The Fellowship of the Ring are deeply imbued with a sense of foreboding and looming catastrophe that may appear to echo the troubled state of Europe in the late 1930s; Tolkien himself explicitly rejected any direct connection, claiming that the chapter in question - 'The Shadow of the Past' - was written 'long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster' (FR, 11), but it is notable that he writes 'had yet become', implying clearly that the foreshadow of that time was present during his writing of even this section. A letter of October 1938 appears to confirm this; Tolkien writes to his publisher, Stanley Unwin, that he is working on the sequel to The Hobbit, a more 'adult' and 'terrifying' work than its predecessor, and that 'The darkness of the present days have had some effect on it. Though it is not an "allegory" (Letters, 41). This question of 'allegory' is an important one, not least because Tolkien repeatedly rejected any notion that The Lord of the Rings was any form of allegory, a form to which he was averse. Equally, however, he conceded that while the work was not a conscious allegory there was an allegorical presence in the writing: 'I dislike Allegory - the conscious and intentional allegory - yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth and fairytale must use allegorical language' (Letters, 145). The essential distinction was between an allegorical interpretation forced upon the reader by the author, and a recognition of allegorical applicability on the part of the reader, responding to what the author had written and relating it to his or her own experience and knowledge. Tolkien drew out this point at length in a letter of 1947:

There is a 'moral', I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing [as allegory]... we find... that the better and more consistent an allegory is the more easily it can be read 'just as a story'; and the better and more closely woven a story is the more easily can those so minded find allegory in it. But the two start out from opposite ends. (Letters, 121)

The allegorical meaning which Tolkien believed could be drawn out of The Lord of the Rings was, in short, potentially so widely applicable as to lose any specific contemporary resonance. The same letter goes on to say: 'You can make The Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power. But that is only because all power magical or mechanical does so work' (Letters, 121). As a recent scholar has written, 'Attempts to allegorize the trilogy from the First or Second World Wars can only limit, even demean, what has been accomplished' but Tolkien's 'personal feelings' and 'the threat of Nazism' can be recognized as being 'somewhere in its propulsive stirrings' (Hillegas, 95).

The Lord of the Rings, then, is not simply an allegory of the mid-twentieth century conflict through which Tolkien lived. It would be more accurate to see it as echoing its author's convictions about the wider universal meaning of that conflict, influenced in turn by his own personal experiences.

V. NAZISM, ARYANISM, COMMUNISM, AND TOLKIEN'S IDEOLOGY

It has already been made clear that Tolkien's fantasy vision is thoroughly 'Nordic' in its character, reflecting the culture and mythology of that area of north-western Europe encompassing the Anglo-Scandinavian countries. There is thus a connection, if… [END OF PREVIEW]

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