The Monsters ARE the Critics Or Consider the Author1 By Adrian Louis Chandler Many of the critics who analyze J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit series usually use an academic and seemingly intelligent reinterpretation that leads the audience to find the allegory of World War I and II within these works of fantasy. But, most of the critics are just plain wrong about allegories of the World Wars appearing in Tolkien’s works and mislead these readers who then unfortunately overlook or miss out on the true meaning to be found. Yes, Tolkien’s experience with the First World War and his children being soldiers in the Second World War influenced Tolkien personally and probably spilled over into his writing, but these Wars are not the essence of his works. Tolkien’s writings actually were created in order to enact a mythological renewal for his generation.2 The true genius of his writings are lost on these critics as they try to find an easy answer that is intelligent enough to boost their own egos and allow them to enjoy the sound of their own voices. All this accumulates into their critical works becoming a wordy allegory for their own ostentatiously grandiose hubris.3 These critics flat out ignore Tolkien’s own words that he “cordially dislike[s] allegory in all its manifestations, and always [has] done since [he] grew old and wary enough to detect its presence”4 and explanations of his own writing to those deaf ears that seem to only hear the melodies being played from their own pens. I, on the other hand, find it helpful to take into account the author’s own views on his own writing;5 it only seems sensible and fair. I can hear all you literary critics screeching at the top of your lungs, “Intentional fallacy, intentional fallacy!!” That one aspect that makes you feel warm and cozy at night with your crimes of ruining others works.6 I also, as Tolkien would, cordially disregard such foolish ideas as “Intentional Fallacy,” with reasons I will explain later more thoroughly so as to relax your wanton questions. But now back to that which is truly important, the author. Tolkien reveals to his readers a path through the dense forest of life. He passes on the knowledge that he 1
These titles are a homage from Tolkien’s own “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” lecture and David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster.” 2 Mythological renewals were extremely important in Joseph Campbell’s teachings. Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Pantheon Books: New York 2008), “And, looking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphosis as men and women had undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.” An idea that Tolkien seemed to know quite well as he sought to bring the old mythos to his own generation and civilization. 3 Much unlike any ostentatious wordy sentences that you would ever find in my exquisite writing. (Note: sarcasm) 4 Eloquently stated in the forward to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Second Edition. I mean it says is right there in the book, come on. 5 Repetition of possessional phrasing here is meant to show the importance of such a thought. 6 For all those who do not know this literary loophole which some like to worm their way through, the idea of “Intentional Fallacy” is that the Author’s own perspective and meaning that was intended by the creation of his work stands no longer valid or important post publication.
Adrian Louis Chandler gained from his studies of Northern European myths and is a beacon to their validity. These earlier myths should not be discounted from his works, as Tolkien explains in his November 25th, 1936 lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” because they hold enormous value that can assist the present day people with their own questions about how to inhabit the world. In fact he wished to bring this form of myth to his generation and “own beloved country”7 so as to present its current usefulness. Myth translates through time, holding an essential part of human nature and it contains many aspects of which we still enjoy and need to be re-taught on occasion. Tolkien uses his Middle-earth chronicles to renew the myths and make them current and applicable to his time. Another aspect of Tolkien renewing these myths is the ripple effect it has through the ages. Tolkien’s renewal set the tone for other authors to then emulate his discussion by creating still new myths. So by the creation of his work, new stories come to renew his stories and the myth continues through time, which is an aspect that is completely lost on those critics who are content to focus on the shortsighted view of finding allegory. To dispel any misguided thoughts of Hobbits and allegory that one might have, we must first address the allegories that are crudely placed onto these novels and even before that we must discuss Tolkien’s unfortunate experiences of the Great Wars. It is this author’s intent to present Tolkien as a highly informed messenger who has overcome a turbulent personal beginning and helped to further the relationship between past and present man through the resurrection of Classic Western Mythology, not as a novice-World-War-allegorical-obsessedscribbler.8 On Tolkien Himself:9 Pre-Wordsmith Tolkien dealt with many dark quests from the offshoot of his birth, which makes it understandable how the written work is hard to dissect from the author’s personal experience with the horrible nature of the world. The infamous J.R.R. Tolkien was born relatively unmagnificently to the world in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on January 3rd, 1892, as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. But, the tranquility did not last long. Mabel, his mother, disliked South Africa so much that she gathered her two sons and left her husband and father of Tolkien, Arthur, behind and sailed for England in April 1895. Three weeks later she arrived at her sought destination and was taken to the family home in Birmingham. Unfortunately, Arthur was delayed in reuniting with his family. In November he contracted Rheumatic fever10 and remained in poor health until his death 7
As he states in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1981) 144. Tolkien discusses the “Poverty” of his beloved England, the poverty of missing out on its own myth type stories of which to enchant the people. 8 Yes, this is in fact my “Intention.” Please do not write a critical analysis on this essay explaining how it is actually allegorically explaining the “Great Recession’s” impact on agriculture of the Southwestern United States of America. You would be wrong and considered a fool by all who have half a brain. 9 Again, Yes, I AM going to discuss the author, as I see it is pertinent to the discussion of his works. Your idea of “Intentional Fallacy” is bullsh*t in my eyes. 10 The Merk Manual, Thirteenth Edition defines Rheumatic fever as, “a nonsuppurative acute inflammatory complication of Group A streptococcal infections, characterized mainly by arthritis, chorea, or carditis appearing alone or in combination, with residual heart disease as a possible sequel of the carditis.” And if that isn’t specific enough of a description then the Classic Descriptions of Disease by Ralph H. Major, M.D. describes the symptoms: “The whole body becomes painful, the face in some becomes red, the pain rages especially about the joint, so that indeed neither the foot nor the hand, nor the finger can be moved in
Adrian Louis Chandler on February 15th, 1896. Young J.R.R. was at the tender age of four. After Arthur’s death, Mabel and the fatherless boys moved to a small cottage in the English countryside town called Sarehole. This relocation deeply affected Tolkien, as the Sarahole countryside was “a place for adventure and solace. [Tolkien] revelled in his surroundings with a desperate enjoyment, perhaps sensing that one day this paradise would be lost. And so it was, all too soon.”11 It was not long before the boys needed a formal education. Tolkien had taken the entrance examinations for King Edward’s School in Birmingham. He failed the examination the first time at age seven but passed the following year in September of 1900. The family moved again and the boys attended St. Philip’s School. Mabel decided that Ronald should go back to King Edward’s and enrolled him into sixth grade. Following all of this unstable living, Mabel was hospitalized in April 1904 for diabetes and by November she died. Tolkien was only 12, but this would not be the last premature death he experienced in his youth. Tolkien remained at King Edward’s and grew close to his classmates forming a group called T.C. B. S., which stood for “Tea Club, Barrovian Society.”12 This group would meet at a tearoom called Barrow’s Stores to discuss and interpret Latin and Greek Literature.13 In 1911 on his second try he won a scholarship to Oxford. The summer before Oxford, Tolkien and his brother Hilary went on vacation to Switzerland. Tolkien later reminisced about the trip, “I remember the dazzling whiteness of the tumbled snowdesert between us and the black horn of the Matterhorn some miles away.”14 This journey stimulated Tolkien’s love for the outdoors but not all of his excursions away from England did. It was on another trip during the summer of 1913 when Tolkien took a job as a tutor and escort for two Mexican boys where he would then experience another traumatic event. The group had set out for Paris and met up with another boy and his two aunts. While touring a seaside area in Britanny, with one of the boys and his older aunt, a car jumped the curb and collided full force with the unfortunate aunt, causing internal injuries. She was brought back to the hotel and later died. Tolkien had to take care of shipping the body back to Mexico. This death shocked Tolkien and when he brought the boys back to England he stated to his girlfriend Edith, to whom he would later marry, “Never again except I am in the direst poverty will I take any such job.”15 Tolkien up until now had dealt with some rather extreme forms of death, but his life still held more tragedy ahead. In 1914 England declared war on Germany, a world-changing event that would then determine the succession of tragedies and debacles that would haunt the world forever. As many men rushed to enlist in the war efforts for their own piece of honor, Tolkien refrained from such hasty decisions. Tolkien wrote in his letters about this exact plight, “in those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in, especially for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.”16 the least without pain and outcry: moreover in the same way the greater pain lies in the joints because that part is endued with greater and more exquisite sensation.” 11 Humphrey Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977) 31. 12 Besides Tolkien there was there was G.B. Smith, Rob Gibson and Christopher Wiseman. 13 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 54. 14 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 59. 15 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 75. 16 Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 53.
Adrian Louis Chandler Instead he went to Oxford and, in 1915, received a first class honors degree in English Language and Literature. Finally, with nothing else to use as an excuse, he enlisted and became a second lieutenant. His job on the battlefield was that of a signaling officer, which kept him safe from some of the more deadly aspects of war, but not all. He was not expected to participate in much close combat, but “there was no avoiding what Tolkien called the ‘animal horror’ of the trenches—the dead bodies in the mud and the craters filled with water and rats.”17 Tolkien’s horrors of war eventually over took him, the months spent in and out of the trenches left him with a sever case of “trench fever,”18 which then lead to his removal from the war and landed Tolkien in a hospital in Birmingham. But this soft bed away from the frontline still did not fully relieve him from the torment of war. While recovering he learned of the fate of his friends in the T.C.B.S. Two of which had died, Rob Gibson and G.B. Smith. By the end of The War all but one of his comrades had perished in battle. At this point Tolkien got his call to write. He had received a letter from Smith that stated, My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight- I am off on duty in a few minutes- there will be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob, before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you, my dear John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot. Yours ever, G.B.S.19
Tolkien’s anxieties about war did not, most unfortunately, end after this set of tragedies. When World War II started he had two sons who were swept away to battle. Luckily, and for the first time in Tolkien’s life it seems, neither one of them died. But the stress of this massive and great conflict was not entirely lost on him as he lived through the bombings of England and truly through the most horrific and profound tragic wars of our, or maybe any, generation. Studies of Philology: and other hard to pronounce words. Philology is defined as “the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning” or an obsolete definition of the term “philology” was just simply: “the love of learning and literature.”20 Both definitions are justifiable when used to describe Tolkien himself. All the earliest records of J.R.R. Tolkien show him as an explorer, of the world,
Janet Brennan Croft War of the Works (Praeger: Connecticut, 2004) 14-15. Trench Fever, according to The Merck Manual, “is a louse-borne febrile disease observed in military populations during World Wars I and II, and now rarely seen. The causative organism grows and multiples in the gut lumen of the louse and is transmitted to man by rubbing of infected louse feces into abraded skin or into the eyes.” Which seems like a lovely way to become ill during war. 19 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 93-94. 20 As found on Dictionary.com, a wonderful tool as a quick and mostly accurate dictionary or thesaurus. 18
Adrian Louis Chandler to some degree, but mostly of the mind. He was infatuated with trees21 and did go off to war, but it was in literature that Tolkien made his most in-depth excursions. After the war, while looking for academic jobs at Oxford, which there was none, he was able to land a position at the New English Dictionary.22 Not surprisingly, Tolkien fell into this job like a cookie in milk. The immersion into the study of the finer points of language allowed Tolkien’s love of linguistics to solidify. He stated about this job, “I learned more in those two years then in any other equal period of my life.”23 He went above and beyond the call of duty in this job, as evidenced by his entry for “wasp” in the New English Dictionary, in which can be found a paragraph on 14 comparable forms of the word from a vast array of languages. His love of Philology drove him to become more apt at this field of study then most. His former employer said of him, “I have no hesitation in saying that I have never known a man of his age who was in these respects his equal.”24 Tolkien, even before his novels, impressed all around him with his passion for language. In 1920 he was appointed Reader in English language at Leeds University and stayed until 1925 when he was elected Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of AngloSaxon at Oxford. He had finally received a position at the school that he had hoped for originally and it was during the next 34 years at Oxford where much of his writings took place. At Oxford Tolkien perpetuated his love of Western Cultural myths, mainly those of Northern Europe. There he found his idea for the book The Hobbit while grading a rather boring essay, he discussed the importance of such literature as Beowulf, and he put forth a new myth for the English people packed with Tolkien’s own language brainchild, Elvish. One day while Tolkien sat25 grading papers, he began to get bored. He describes this particular evening as trying because the papers were so awful. While going through a particularly droning essay he came across something that almost made him give the author an extra mark, a blank page. On this page he wrote something that would change his life forever, “In a hole in the ground, lived a Hobbit.” This would be the spark that led to the engulfing fire that has become the Hobbit series. But before the entire story would be told Tolkien still had some work to do. 1936, British Academy, a wonderful lecture was given by a strict academic, who also happened to know what it means to value something beyond what is immediately apparent. Tolkien’s lecture, which was transcribed with the title “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” defends an aspect of mythological literature that had, until this time, been crudely overlooked and refuted as of little consequence. Tolkien explains to the critics, as his lecture was a critique of the academic literary snobs who used it as simply a historical document and felt myth to be childish, that there is much more to the epic poem Beowulf. Tolkien made the argument that these critics were overlooking the work’s poetic rich philosophy of life because they chose to, and got stuck on, the concrete unemotional aspects of the document. He eloquently stated, “The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather then 21
He once stated in a 1968 BBC interview, “All my works are full of trees… I guess I would like to make contact with a tree and find out what it feels about things.” 22 A.k.a. The Oxford New English Dictionary, which is a highly reputable and boring source for all your dictionarying needs, as anyone who has gone to school must already know. 23 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 108. Well said, sir. 24 Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography 108. 25 Presumably, I guess he could have been standing but that would be quite uncomfortable.
Adrian Louis Chandler makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done.”26 Since this lecture, mythological stories have been analyzed with much more care given to the stories’ deeper messages. The idea that myth has something to teach us about ourselves and about human nature in general is no longer a strange and anklebiting immature idea.27 After the power of this lecture began to take hold Tolkien published his first mythological book in 1937, The Hobbit. As a true Philologian he created the language of “Elvish,” as a fully formed and fluent language, before finishing the books of his Hobbit series. But these books go far beyond a singular academic meaning, they are meant to be enjoyed and to inspire. Teachings of Courage: Allegory is a Four-Letter Word. “In a hole in the ground lived a Hobbit.” That first sentence which started a passion for a fantasy world, as well as a great debate about the meaning of it all. Through fantasy, Tolkien indirectly lays out the teachings and truisms of life. He shows how the tales of the past give the participants in the present strength and counsel. The past helps us to learn about ourselves in the present and Tolkien revitalizes the old myths of the past in order to make their teachings more relevant to us who survive today. Tolkien’s love of Classic Western European Mythology inspired him to create his own myth. He found solace in the Nordic myths most of all, but felt lacking as there were no myths that were of his own English heritage, at least non of the quality of which he desired. Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, speaks of the recreation of myth as an essential part of the evolution and timeline of myths as a whole. They need revising and revisiting in order to stay powerful and meaningful to the people, and Tolkien was the absolute perfection of tool and trade meeting together to accomplish this job. Tolkien’s background of Philology allowed him a larger canvas then most when it came to the language of a story, and his lifetime of studying myths and ancient cultures granted him the ability to stay true to the messages of those long since past myths. Tolkien, in fact because of his path in life, could have no equal when concerning a renewal of myth. But, unfortunately, his peers did not handle the message that he so carefully recreated and respected in the same way. With Tolkien’s experiences with the Wars and their great impact on the world, it is easy to see how critics would incorrectly assume the allegory aspect in Tolkien’s writings. Unfortunately, this falsehood has been so loudly shouted that to even begin to show the true meaning behind these wonderful works it is necessary to dispel such damning rumors and presumptions. We have already discussed his personal relation to the Wars and how his life of study impacted Tolkien. Now it is time to show how this all converges to excommunicate the simple-minded arguments of allegory placed onto this renewal myth. Then we can truly accept and enjoy the meaning behind the Hobbit tales and what they have done for current day writing. The allegories that have surfaced are understandable, but can be chalked up to the term commonly mistaken for irony: 26
This is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Monsters and the Critics and other Essays “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” edited by Christopher Tolkien (Harper Collins: London, 1983) lecture that we have been discussing. 27 And yet Tolkien’s words fall on the deaf ears of critics when he explains that his own mythological Hobbit stories are not allegorical.
Adrian Louis Chandler coincidence.28 It is in fact a “mental coincidence” that occurs when one reads a passage of something and finds applicability for personal meaning in the writing that is not actually there; it is in the mind of the reader. Since the reader is searching for that correlation, they will find it.29 This view of the reader’s own power over the meaning behind the writing is a simple misunderstanding of the definition of words, and as words are our only way to understand one another a description by a master Philologian, Tolkien himself, may help to dispel any counter arguments; I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the proposed domination of the author.30
This description shows that allegory is a deliberate institution of writing and the author is the only one with the power to put that aspect in his or her own writing. This then shows that Intentional Fallacy does not even pertain to the argument of whether or not one can present the Hobbit series as an allegory, for the main aspect of an allegory is missing in the texts, deliberate author intervention. So when we encounter those who find the meaning of the World Wars, by their own mental coincidence, or applicability, and use the standpoint of Intentional Fallacy to argue that they have the right to impose their ideas on a book that does not hold those specific aspects, we must realize that it is only being done because that critics wishes to piggyback a writer’s fame in order to make their own thoughts relevant on a subject. It is true that the Hobbit series can be used as a template to understand certain facets of war, as it is a mythological expression of human nature and a critique of the world we live in, but to explicitly say that war is the only teaching that these books hold would be a great squandering of rich resources. It is like a man who uses old stones to build a tower. Then many years later critics come, stand in the bottom room of the tower and say to each other, “this was a wonderful tower built as a shelter from the rain.” What they miss is that the stairs take you to the roof, and from the roof the builder meant for all to look out on the sea.31 Critics miss the bigger message because they in fact find a use for the Hobbit series. The problem is that it is only a small part of what the entire message is supposed to be. John Goldthwaite states, “The irony must have escaped [Tolkien] that the make-believe swagger he was here honoring was precisely the kind of toy-soldiering that had led to the horrors of World War I to begin with.”32 Goldthwaite is one of those critics that so miss the mark on Tolkien’s message that it even becomes offensive. The problem is here that Goldthwaite is still only seeing 28
This has been true ever since that song came out in the 90’s by Alanis Morissette. On the fourth line of this paragraph, the fourth word is “meaning.” And that is just the random coincidence that these critics find, the meaning they are searching for. I had someone tell me a number and then I looked for a seemingly clever way to use it, but the fact that I found “meaning” in this paragraph about meaning by using the number four is simply a “mental coincidence,” not because I mathematically constructed my writing to fit my hypothesis. 30 J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1987) xxvi. 31 An allegory for all those critics that are only able to see by this method of teaching. It is a revision of Tolkien’s explanation in his lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” about the critic’s position on Beowulf. 32 John Goldthwaite The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America (Oxford UP: New York, 1996) 218. 29
Adrian Louis Chandler the applicability of his own beliefs in the stories. The “toy-soldiering,” as Goldthwaite so degradingly puts it, is actually Tolkien’s, a proven soldier, way of showing that during such atrocious near hell-on-earth states, or even just troubled times, loyalty, courage and friendship maybe all one has to persevere. It is possible to extrapolate teachings about war and wartime in these books, but when concerning specifics to the Great Wars there is no one-to-one allegorical exchange with these topics. Instead, there is a vast base of the recreation of myths from past cultures that bring more teachings about human nature and not simply war. Tolkien purposefully brings out the idea of learning from the past, courage and loyalty to his present day mythos in order to renew what we have once lost. Campbell proclaims in an interview, called “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers, the necessity of revising and revisiting the myths of old to keep them current, and that is just what Tolkien is doing. 33 Tolkien shows that learning from the past is important to our own journey. He shows that courage and determination are qualities that are imperative to survive. And finally, Tolkien displays the necessity of loyalty during such trying times in which courage is needed. He does this all through the revision of ancient myths by placing these teachings within a fantasy that is comparable to those of old Nordic legend. The Hobbit series teems with fantastical imagery, people, and heroic deeds that allow implicit narrative to teach through the actions of the protagonists. Tolkien gives a nod to the idea of learning from the stories and myths of the past in The Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins states, “‘Every worm has his weak spot,’ as my father used to say, though I am sure it was not from personal experience.”34 This shows the importance of learning from the past within Tolkien’s own myth. Bilbo’s father passes on the myth of an enemy’s weakness, though he never had need for it. Now this myth is coming to use, and without it Bilbo may have never been able to help defeat the dragon Smaug. Tolkien uses his own tale to express the importance of learning from the stories of the past. Also, in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings trilogy Frodo recalls Bilbo’s advise about journeys, “[Bilbo] used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”35
This metaphorical teaching that Bilbo learned from his father is now passed on to his adopted heir, Frodo, and the continuation of learning from myths is displayed generation to generation. Bilbo is teaching the use of caution when beginning a journey, a lesson that Frodo will come to know all too well. Tolkien is expressing how it is important to learn in this way, as those that came before have accumulated knowledge that will be helpful to those who have not yet had the horrible trials and may be able to circumvent such troubles. In this way
Joseph Campbell’s actual quote is, “The myth has to provide, in the immediate pedagogical sense, it has to give life models, and these models have to be appropriate to the possibilities of the time in which you’re living. Some of the virtues of the past are the vices of today… Another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe.” 34 J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Ballantine Books: New York, 1982) 219. 35 The Fellowship of the Ring 92.
Adrian Louis Chandler learning from the past is important and myth is an avenue of teaching that allows these truths to be passed down. Another ideal that Tolkien stresses in his Hobbit series is the theory of courage and determination in the face of harrowing odds. Tolkien felt that defeatism and hopelessness are two great moral crimes. He made a template for bravery within these novels that allow the reader to understand the ideals that Tolkien has found in older myths and within the experiences of his own turbulent life. Perseverance through struggle is emphasized and Tolkien shows that “courage is found in unlikely places.”36 He shows this by the strong and powerful characters not necessarily being the most physically dominant, but the short and humble Hobbits. Likewise he portrays courage and determination through the decision to push on for the ideal of good rather then give up and allow evil to prevail just on the basis of self-preservation. Aragon, the reluctant leader and friend of the Hobbits, emulates Tolkien’s ideal of courage in the face of utter destruction and certain demise when he states, “As I have begun, so I will go on. We come to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall.”37 Aragon is facing a battle which he knows, as things are, they most likely will lose. Even with this knowledge he chooses to fight on and allow a distraction for the Hobbits to carry out their mission, which in the end will lead to a greater good. Though this seems to be a complete rendering of self-sacrifice, it is, it also portrays a lesson of keeping to ones’ convictions and doing what is right no matter what the odds. Tolkien shows a noble man who has found the most effective course of action and decides to continue on that course even if it means his own life. In this grandiose portrayal we can also see that this is a template for our everyday life as well. Tolkien is telling us that we should not let our morals waver because they may be inconvenient in a given situation.38 He hopes to inspire courage in all of us with this kind of larger then life experience in the fantastical world he has created and in this world he also brings the message that we cannot do it alone. Tolkien also expresses that love for others is as imperative as the quality of courage. This bond of loyalty and friendship is so often why the protagonists in his stories prevail. In the very beginning of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, loyalty is shown just in how the group of friends see Frodo’s journey. Pippin states to his friend Frodo, “You must go—therefore we must too.”39 They see their paths as connected and no matter what challenges lay ahead, they will face them together. It is easy to understand, because of Tolkien’s past, his great admiration for loyalty and friendship. Tolkien wishes to pass on his experience of unwavering comradery that proves to be so valuable. The loyalty that is shown by the characters in his story relates a calm during the most violent of storms. Even in the face of pure evil, friendship holds solace by the knowledge that they are not alone. Frodo’s closest friend, Samwise Gamgee, feels this bond even when Frodo is losing his mind and believes Sam is turning on him. The final leg of the quest is at hand, Sam knows he is not trusted and that this may be the last thing he ever does, but 36
The Fellowship of the Ring 105. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1994) 862. 38 Again, those critics that can only see this as a militaristic moment and use it as an argument that Tolkien is showing the reader that it is noble to die as cannon fodder at war are missing the true beauty. Tolkien is actually giving us a template of how to be better people on a day-to-day basis. He uses these grand moments of black and white style instances, which actual war is so often not, in order to, as so many myths do, allow the reader to see the message of good and evil, moral and immoral, more clearly. 39 The Fellowship of the Ring 129. 37
Adrian Louis Chandler still he forges on out of love for his friend. Sam thought to himself when faced with this hurdle, “So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started… to help mister Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it.”40 It is one thing to begin a quest, not knowing fully what it entails, but even in this final moment Sam refuses to abandon Frodo. Desertion never truly crosses Sam’s mind, his love and loyalty to Frodo trumps any fear of death or personal harm. He finds a higher calling within his relationship to his friend. This is a message that Tolkien felt the world should understand and that if it could be translated and learned through myth then we would be able to overcome most hindrances and burdens that we might face, for we would not be alone. The Myth Remains: Gandalf to Dumbeldore Fantasy novels, movies and stories in general, still hold a stigma of being childish or absurd. True, we have moved far since the time when “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” lecture was relevant. And even now the argument that historical myths hold more then just documentation of past cultures is strange to argue as it has become common knowledge that myths are teaching tools. But we do not seem to view our current fantasy as myths. The term “myth” seems to be synonymous with “lie” or “ancient-stories-toldto-quaint-people-who-did-not-have-the-inteligence-needed-to-aquire-the-wonderfuladvancements-of-science.” We hold ourselves so high and look down our hooked noses at those primitive people, but we too use myths all the same. Unfortunately, the ones who gain the most knowledge from the myths we have today are children.41 They are untouched in many cases by the barrier of academia and can follow the underlying messages within these tales with much more ease then most adults, and no, acknowledging that they are there does not count as understanding and learning them. Not only is it much more pleasant to listen, watch or read a story to learn the truths about the world, or even reinforce them, but the teaching, when done correctly, will embed itself within us much more deeply, becoming a part of us rather then a memorization of arbitrary facts about existence. We do use movies and other forms of storytelling entertainment as myths, but most of us walk out saying, “What a delightful story” or “did you see those special effects!” We miss the myth and count it as inane that these silly fantasies can truly teach us anything. Hubris is still our downfall. Those that are not children and still enjoy fantasy or, God forbid, wish to in-depthly analyze the modern myths are seen as social outcasts or just plainly not to be taken seriously. But these narrow minded social judges are wrong. Wrong in the way that the critics of Tolkien are wrong. They hold the folly of intellectual nearsightedness. Like Tolkien’s work, fantasy brings myth alive again and again. Tolkien’s own myths have been somewhat preserved and definitely have persevered since their beginnings in 1937 with The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954-55. But the Hobbit series has expanded from purely literary to all forms of modern technology. There have been radio theatrical readings, feature length
The Return of the King 913. I feel many adults, some that I am rather close to, could use with some teachings from current myths and fantasies. 41
Adrian Louis Chandler animated Hobbit movies,42 Hobbit video games, The Lord of the Rings feature films by Peter Jackson, and soon43 The Hobbit feature film. It is no secret that Tolkien’s work itself is renown and many wish to retell his wonderful stories in new accessible ways. And though enjoyable, these new recreations lack the kind of mythological revisiting that Tolkien was actually doing himself. But not all is lost. There are new myths that retell and revisit Tolkien’s works in the same way that he renewed the myths of old. Fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling revitalize the message behind the story. Those that perpetuate the Hobbit series and Tolkien’s exact myth, like Peter Jackson, still show the messages that Tolkien left behind and bring those messages to a new audience. But writers like Rowling actually create new myths that again beg to be read as a new story unfolds. Only truth be told, the messages that Tolkien renewed from old are taken up again with the Harry Potter series. Tolkien’s series also brought back to life the genre of fantasy literature, so like it or not all those who write fantasy today, knowingly or not, follow in his footsteps. J.K. Rowling is one such author who succeeded in creating a series of novels that hold true myth and meaning. Like Tolkien, Rowling holds the virtues of learning from the past, courage and loyalty to high standards. Though not having the academic degrees concerning mythology that Tolkien had, Rowling progressed the understanding that those who come before have much to teach. The “pensieve”44 that the characters in the Harry Potter series use to sift through old memories shows that Rowling felt we could learn much from the past. Harry’s quest relies on him, and two inseparable friends Ron and Hermione, deciphering what he learns about the past in these reviewings of others’ memories. Similar to Tolkien, Rowling is using the past to teach and enhance the lives of the protagonists in the present. Moreover the children’s story in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” is in fact a myth that explains to Harry and his companions about the Deathly Hallows. In this myth within a myth is the lesson that to be greedy and boastful or to tempt Death is a great folly, and to be humble and wise are true virtues. “The Tale of the Three Brothers” is a myth that Tolkien would be proud of. It teaches the characters as well as the reader and advocates the importance of myths and learning from the tales of old. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series also follows the teachings in Tolkien’s books by presenting courage and loyalty as necessities of life. Harry is often made to face his own fears and press forward even when all hope seems lost. Harry is not the most intelligent or masterful with his wand, compared to his companion Hermione, but he and his friends hold a strong sense of courage and loyalty that allows each one of them to be powerful in the face of danger. Truly, one of the more dire moments of the series is when they are forced to, in turn, wear a pendant that sucks courage from them.45 This trial is the closest to deconstructing their friendships and even the quest throughout any of the novels. Courage is one aspect that is needed within each character of the series, but it is 42
One being The Hobbit (1977) TV animation directed by Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr. where the Elf king was voiced by Otto Preminger no less. 43 Unless by the time you read this it is already out. 44 Rowling, like Tolkien, liked to use play-on-words to create names within her story. “Pensieve” is a nod to the word “pensive” which means to be thoughtful or dreamy and the “Pensieve” allows you to enter past memories in a dream like state. 45 As read in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic Inc.: New York, 2007).
Adrian Louis Chandler the loyalty of those who fight for good that truly shines through the darkness of evil. Conversely, the most heinous act that is told throughout the books is the horrible disloyalty shown towards Harry’s parents by one of their best friends.46 The love for their fellows truly separates the good from the bad in these books. None of the good ever want each other to be alone with their burdens and always stand up, no matter what the odds, to help their friends in any way possible. While those who have chosen the dark side scratch and claw each other to climb to the top and are in a state of perpetual fear of even their closest comrade. These are the kinds of qualities that Tolkien stresses so much in his Hobbit series. In Rowling’s writing she has revised and revisited Tolkien’s myth, which revises and revisits older myths. This form of passing morals and other revelations on to present generations is a necessary and powerful aspect of human nature. Conclusion: re-declaration of my intention.47 Most critiques of the Hobbit series are wrong, but with the abilities that retrospection gives us we can decipher the correct message by gathering information about the author and the times. Also, the notion of Intentional Fallacy is itself a fallacy. Works of fiction do go above and beyond what the author may have intended, but to claim that the author is unimportant in understanding the work post-publication is just lunacy. As one cannot say that God no longer holds any importance of the world post seventh day,48 one cannot say that the creator of a novel no longer holds significance when understanding the work, as it is a manifestation of their own mind. Tolkien did not disregard allegory as a simple and meaningless form of literature, but what he does is much more in-depth. Tolkien honored and valued the deep emotional traits of human nature that remain timeless. He dug up the past to shed light on the present. He wished to spread the knowledge of his own life and research onto the next generations, as he found the old myths of Nordic origin did before. I hope that it has also become apparent that you should not breakdown myth into an easily analyzed synopsis in which it is possible to spout form, meter, meaning, and the like. This would be your down fall as myth goes beyond strict academic understanding and tugs at the heart stings within man. To miss this is to miss the beauty of life. Tolkien put it best, “For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.”49 Tolkien made his Hobbit series a translation of revelation for others, not as a one-to-one allegory designed to perpetuate a sense that the Great Wars were great. He bewitchingly displays courage and loyalty as qualities we should all be so lucky to embody. Tolkien knew these truths through his turbulent path and unwavering friendships. These qualities that he was so lucky to be endowed with through the horrors of his life were then justified though the myths of old that he learned. Then he wished to pass this message on to the people of his own beloved country and time. Now that the world has expanded, from the connection we have through media and Internet, our culture has moved beyond borders. The messages of 46
This atrocity that is unveiled in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Scholastic Inc.: New York, 1999) echoes through the entire series and is seen as one of the more despicable acts carried out under the command of Lord Voldemort. 47 A jab in the eye at you “Intentional Phallicists” 48 I am not claiming the existence or non-existence of said “God,” but felt that the larger scale example will help those to understand the importance of the correlation between creator and created. 49 “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” 15.
Adrian Louis Chandler these kinds of writings need to be received the world over. The problem is that academia shuns these myths as simple fantasy. But as new myths are created and spread, more and more of the population begin to accept them to be beyond inferior childrenâ€™s stories. On this expansion of humanity, it seems to be the intellectual elite that are held back by their own snobbyness and truly build a blockade with bricks of high and mighty ego stuffs that infects others with blindness when concerning contemporary myths. For these followers wish to be considered elite as well. But to be joined in the mud by loyal courageous friends, while we discuss noble deeds of fantasy, is more important to me then to stand on top a condemned archaic structure shoulder-to-shoulder with the self-proclaimed elite few who grasp for overly complex outcomes that simply are not there.