Tolkien's Legendarium: Role of Tragedy Term Paper

Pages: 17 (5026 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Written: October 18, 2019

In the tale of Turin, the moral appears to be that man is not in this world alone but rather that there is an evil force that hates him and wants to destroy him and man must take stock of it.

Prometheus Bound

In this tale by Aeschylus, Prometheus is chained to a mountain for disobeying Zeus and giving the gift of fire and the arts to mankind. Prometheus rejects Zeus’s antipathy towards man and refuses to tell Zeus what the leader of the gods wants to know regarding a possible insurrection against his power. Zeus strikes Prometheus with a thunderbolt, sending him into an abyss of darkness.

The tale reflects the stubbornness of Prometheus, who refuses to budge to the will of Zeus, just like the Noldor refused to budge or relent in the refusal of the Teleri. There is in both stories a sense that history is shaped by beings and groups whose wills are in conflict with one another and this conflict leads to tragic courses of events.

Hector, Achilles and the Fall of Troy in The Iliad

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Hector and Achilles are the two main tragic heroes in Homer’s Iliad: Hector is the Achilles-version of the Trojans and Achilles is the Hector-version of the Greeks. They are comparable in courage, valor and strength—but in their duel, triggered by Hector’s killing of Achilles’ dear friend, Achilles slays Hector and then drags his corpse from the back of his chariot around the city of Troy in a display of disrespect that shocks the Trojans and causes Priam to come out to beg back the body of his dead son. Achilles is eventually moved enough to permit it, and his own death is not too far off, when his one vulnerable spot (his heel) is pierced by the arrow of Paris. The death of Achilles, however, does not save Troy, which is burned to the ground by the Greeks. The tragedy in all this is that none of it had to happen: the war started because Paris was “given” by the goddesses Helen, wife of Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, king of the Greeks. The tragic stories in the Iliad serve as some of the groundwork for Tolkien’s own epic depiction of Middle-earth and the tragic narratives spun into its history.

How the Christian “True-Myth” and the Pagan Classics Influenced Tolkien’s Legendarium

Term Paper on Tolkien's Legendarium: Role of Tragedy Assignment

As Charles Pearce notes in his biography of Tolkien, the author once described to the unbelieving (at the time) C.S. Lewis the religion of Christianity as a “true-myth”—a story that was like a legend in its epic and grand scope but unlike a legend in the fact that it was true. Tolkien’s belief in the “true-myth” informed his writing to a great extent, and one can see in The Exile of Noldor the same story of exile that began with the Fall of Lucifer and the bad angels, and the subsequent Fall of Man described in the Book of Genesis. There are similar themes: the land being closed off to those who choose rebellion, the ultimate redemption through the exercise of one’s will for the Good, the return to the Promised Land—i.e., the Blessed Realm or Paradise.

In the Tragedy of the Children of Hurin, one sees a reflection of the lives of the cursed children of Oedipus—Antigone and Ismene, Eteocles and Polynices. Oedipus, having killed his father and married his mother (unbeknownst to himself), incestuously produced these four children and was driven from Thebes when the revelation became clear to all. While their sufferings are different in origin from the children of Hurin, the curse placed upon them is not: their lives are spent in gloom and suffering. Turin, son of Hurin, is in many ways more like Oedipus than like the latter’s children. Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta and it was foretold to them that Oedipus would one day grow to murder the father—and so the child was cursed, just the same as was Turin, who could never maintain any degree of success in his own life. Oedipus faced many challenges and defeated and Sphinx, thus liberating the Thebans from the tyranny of the monster—for which they made him king. By that point Oedipus had already killed Laius in a fit of road rage (the event is only alluded to in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, but it is the act upon which hinges the whole of the action of the play). He marries Jocasta his mother, unaware all this time of his real identity. When the revelation is made know Oedipus blinds himself, Jocasta hangs herself—and thus it can be seen that Tolkien grounds his myth of Hurin in the ancient pagan myth of Oedipus, for Hurin’s wife-sister kills herself when she learns of the truth of her relationship with her brother-husband, and Hurin kills himself.

The Christian orientation in the tragedy (or curse) of Hurin is that Hurin could have been one of Middle-earth’s greatest heroes, but he was held back or limited by the curse of Morgoth, placed on him when his father Turin was captured. From the Christian perspective, Hurin represents the fallen state of mankind—man touched by the curse of sin (Hurin is constantly succumbing to pride, envy, wrath, etc., all of which causes him to lose whatever status he has earned after a particular episode of heroism—whether slaying a dragon or killing an orc). In this sense, he is like fallen man in the Old Testament, in need of saving from himself. Morgoth represents the evil of Satan, creeping into man’s soul and poisoning it, corrupting it, preventing it from achieving the glory intended for it. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, there is no good explanation for why the gods would place such a similar curse upon Oedipus. Some speculate that Laius was cursed because of inappropriate actions he committed towards the child of his host Pelops when in Pisa (Rist). However, in the Old Testament, it is clear that the curse of exile and the loss of control of the desires, the exaggerated state of the ego, and so on, are all caused by man’s giving in to the temptations of the devil and thus positioning himself against God, Who gave him life. The curse is fitting and appropriate from the Christian perspective, and in Tolkien’s myth of Hurin, the curse placed on Turin’s children by Morgoth reflects a kind of Satanic (purely evil) action by one who hates all that is good seeks only to destroy what God has made (which is essentially the ambition of the fallen Lucifer in the Christian true-myth).

Christopher Tolkien notes in his introduction to the tale that “Morgoth is not ‘invoking’ evil or calamity on Húrin and his children, he is not ‘calling on’ a higher power to be the agent: for he, ‘Master of the fates of Arda’ as he named himself to Húrin, intends to bring about the ruin of his enemy by the force of his own gigantic will. Thus he ‘designs’ the future of those whom he hates…” (18). What Morgoth wanted was for Hurin to see the world through the eyes of malice and hatred that Morgoth had in his own head (Tolkien). It is in this respect that Morgoth is much like Milton’s Satan, a character Tolkien would have known well as a result of his own literary education. Milton’s Satan spends much of Paradise Lost attempting to win the sympathies of the reader and to get the reader to see the world through his own eyes, to see with the eyes of hatred and malice, as Christopher Tolkien puts it in his introduction to his father’s story, originally titled as Christopher points out “The Curse off Morgoth” rather than the Tragedy of the Children of Hurin. The original title suggests, moreover, that J.R.R. Tolkien was more influenced by the idea of an evil entity forcing its will upon a lesser entity and thus altering the course of life and of future generations—which is basically the tale of fallen man in the Old Testament. The tale of Turin is the same tale—the tale of an individual afflicted by a curse that constricts him and prevents him from having happiness. It is a tale that explains to some degree (at least within the terms of Middle-earth lore) why there is such evil and misery in the world. For J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium, that explanation is right there in the will of Morgoth: a being that seeks only to assert its own will on the will of others—a Luciferian being to be sure.

The Greeks could not have envisioned such an evil that operates out of such malice. They would not have understood the “motiveless malignity” of Shakespeare’s Iago, as Coleridge called it (Bradley 228). The fact that Morgoth is a fallen Vala only makes the connection to the true-myth of the fall of Lucifer (a fallen angel) all the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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