Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) 1892-1973

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TOLKIEN, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) 1892-1973

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "tohl-keen"; born January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa; died of complications resulting from a bleeding gastric ulcer and a chest infection, September 2, 1973, in Bournemouth, England; buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford; son of Arthur Reuel (a bank manager) and Mabel (Suffield) Tolkien; married Edith Mary Bratt (a pianist), March 22, 1916 (died, November 29, 1971); children: John, Michael, Christopher, Priscilla. Education: Exeter College, Oxford, B.A., 1915, M.A., 1919. Religion: Roman Catholic.

CAREER: Author and scholar. Assistant on Oxford English Dictionary, 1918-20; University of Leeds, Leeds, England, reader in English, 1920-24, professor of English language, 1924-25: Oxford University, Oxford, England, Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, 1925-45, Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, 1945-59, fellow of Pembroke College, 1926-45, honorary resident fellow of Merton College, 1972-73. Freelance tutor, 1919; Leverhulme research fellow, 1934-36; Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecturer, British Academy, 1936; Andrew Lang Lecturer, St. Andrews University, 1939; W. P. Ker Lecturer, University of Glasgow, 1953; O'Donnell Lecturer, Oxford University, 1955. Military service: Lancashire Fusiliers, 1915-18.

MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Philological Society (vice-president), Science Fiction Writers of America (honorary), Hid Islenzka Bokmenntafelag (honorary).

AWARDS, HONORS: New York Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival award, 1938, for The Hobbit; D.Phil., Liege, 1954; D.Litt., University College, Dublin, 1954, and Oxford University, 1972; International Fantasy Award, 1957, for The Lord of the Rings; Benson Medal, 1966; Commander, Order of the British Empire, 1972; Locus Award for best fantasy novel, 1978, for The Silmarillion; Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, 1981, for Unfinished Tales; The Lord of the Rings was voted Britain's number-one best-loved novel (and The Hobbit was voted into the top 100) by the British public as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation's "The Big Read," 2003.


(Editor, with C. L. Wiseman, and author of introductory note) Geoffrey Bache Smith, A Spring Harvest (poems), Erskine Macdonald (London, England), 1918.

A Middle English Vocabulary, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1922.

(Editor, with Eric V. Gordon) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1925, 2nd edition, revised by Norman Davis, 1967.

(With Eric V. Gordon and others) Songs for the Philologists (verse), Department of English, University College, Oxford (Oxford, England), 1936.

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (originally published in Proceedings of the British Academy, 1936; also see below), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1937, new edition published as Beowulf and the Critics, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Tempe, AZ), 2002.

(Self-illustrated) The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again (also see below), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1937, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1938, 5th edition, 2001.

Chaucer As a Philologist, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1943.

Farmer Giles of Ham (also see below), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1949, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1950, 2nd edition, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1975, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

The Lord of the Rings, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), Volume 1: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954, Volume 2: The Two Towers, 1954, Volume 3: The Return of the King, 1955, with new foreword by the author, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1966, 2nd edition, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1966, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1967, one volume edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (also see below), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1962, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1963, 2nd edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

(Editor) Ancrene Wisse: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1962.

Tree and Leaf (includes "On Fairy-Stories" and "Leaf by Niggle" [originally published in Dublin Review, 1945]; also see below), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1964, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1965, 2nd edition, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1975.

The Tolkien Reader (includes "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth" [originally published in Essays and Studies, English Association, 1953; also see below], Tree and Leaf, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil), introduction by Peter S. Beagle, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1966.

The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle, music by Donald Swann, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1967.

Smith of Wootton Major (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1967, 2nd edition, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1975, Houghton Mifflin (London, England), 1978.

Smith of Wootton Major [and] Farmer Giles of Ham, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1969.

(Translator) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, [and] Sir Orfeo, edited by son, Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1975.

Tree and Leaf, Smith of Wootton Major, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Unwin Books (London, England), 1975.

Farmer Giles of Ham [and] The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Unwin Books (London, England), 1975.

The Father Christmas Letters, edited by Baillie Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.

The Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1977.

Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien, foreword and notes by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1979.

Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1980.

Poems and Stories, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1980.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1981.

(Author of text and commentary, and translator) The Old English Exodus, edited by Joan Turville-Petre, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.

Mr. Bliss (reproduced from Tolkien's illustrated manuscript), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1982, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.

Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode, edited by Alan Bliss, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1982, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.

The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1983, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984.

The Annotated Hobbit: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, introduction and notes by Douglas A. Anderson, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988, expanded edition, with illustrations by Tolkien, 2002.

Bilbo's Last Song (verse), illustrated by Pauline Baynes, Riverwood Publishers (Newmarket, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Tales from the Perilous Realm (includes Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Leaf by Niggle," and Smith of Wootton Major), HarperCollins (London, England), 1997.

Roverandom, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

The Hobbit: A 3-D Pop-Up Adventure, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 1999.

Poems from "The Hobbit," Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.


The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1983, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984.

The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984.

The Lays of Beleriland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1985.

The Shaping of Middle-Earth: The Quenta, the Ambarkanta, and the Annals, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.

The Lost Road and Other Writings: Language and Legend before "The Lord of the Rings," Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987.

The Return of the Shadow: The History of "The Lord of the Rings," Part 1, Houghton Mifflin (London, England), 1988.

The Treason of Isengard: The History of "The Lord of the Rings," Part 2, Houghton Mifflin (London, England), 1989.

The War of the Ring: The History of "The Lord of the Rings," Part 3, Houghton Mifflin (London, England), 1990.

Sauron Defeated: The History of "The Lord of the Rings," Part 4, Houghton Mifflin (London, England), 1992.

Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One: The Legends of Aman, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992.

The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillion, Part Two: The Legends of Beleriland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.

The Peoples of Middle-Earth, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1996.


(Author of foreword) Walter E. Haigh, A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1928.

(Author of preface) John R. Clark Hall, Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment: A Translation into Modern English Prose, edited by C. L. Wrenn, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1940.

(Author of preface) The Ancrene Riwle, translated by M. Salu, Burns & Oates (London, England), 1955.

Contributorto books, including Oxford Poetry, 1915, edited by G. D. H. Cole and T. W. Earp, Basil H. Blackwell (London, England), 1915; A Northern Venture: Verses by Members of the Leeds University English School Association, Swan Press (London, England), 1923; Realities: An Anthology of Verse, edited by G. S. Tancred, Gay & Hancock (London, England), 1927; Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Sites in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1932; Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1947; Angles and Britons: O'Donnell Lectures, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1963; Winter's Tales for Children: 1, edited by Caroline Hillier, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1965; William Luther White, The Image of Man in C. S. Lewis, Abingdon Press (New York, NY), 1969; Roger Lancelyn Green, The Hamish Hamilton Book of Dragons, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1970; A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell, Open Court, 1975; Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell, J. R. R. Tolkien: Scholar and Storyteller, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1979. Contributor of translations to The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.

Contributor to The Year's Work in English Studies, 1924 and 1925, Transactions of the Philological Society, 1934, English Studies, 1947, Studia Neophilologica, 1948, and Essais de philologie moderne, 1951. Contributor to periodicals, including The King Edward's School Chronicle, Oxford Magazine, Medium Aevum, Dublin Review, Welsh Review, and Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review.

The greater part of the manuscripts of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Mr. Bliss are collected at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI. Some of Tolkien's letters are collected in the British Broadcasting Corporation Written Archives, the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, the Oxford University Press and its Dictionary Department, the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Wade Collection of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

ADAPTATIONS: Recordings of J. R. R. Tolkien reading from his own works include Poems and Songs of Middle-Earth, The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Ring, released by Caedmon Records. Christopher Tolkien reads The Silmarillion: Of Beren and Luthien, also for Caedmon Records. Tolkien's illustrations from Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien have been published in various editions of his books, and have appeared on calendars, posters, and postcards. Rankin-Bass animated a version of The Hobbit for television in 1977. Ralph Bakshi directed a theater film based on The Fellowship of the Ring and bits and pieces of The Two Towers, which was released as "The Lord of the Rings" in 1978. A Bunraku-style puppet version of The Hobbit was produced in Los Angeles in 1984 by Theatre Sans Fil of Montreal. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings have been adapted to feature films of the same titles: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. The first of the three movies was released in 2001, the second in 2002, and the third in 2003. All three movies were directed by Peter Jackson and produced by New Line Cinema; the third film received an Academy Award as best picture, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: J. R. R. Tolkien is best known to most readers as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, regarded by Charles Moorman in Tolkien and the Critics as "unique in modern fiction," and by Augustus M. Kolich in the Dictionary of LiteraryBiography as "the most important fantasy stories of the modern period." From 1914 until his death in 1973, Tolkien drew on his familiarity with Northern and other ancient literatures and his own invented languages to create not just his own story, but his own world: Middle Earth, complete with its own history, myths, legends, epics, and heroes. Tolkien's life's work, Kolich continued, "encompasses a reality that rivals Western man's own attempt at recording the composite, knowable history of his species. Not since Milton has any Englishman worked so successfully at creating a secondary world, derived from our own, yet complete in its own terms with encyclopedic mythology; an imagined world that includes a vast gallery of strange beings: hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and, finally, the men of Westernesse." Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy has drawn a readership from multiple generations and has been adapted to award-winning feature films. It is unquestionably one of the most popular and influential fantasy works ever written.

Tolkien began to create his secondary world while still in school, shortly before enlisting to fight in World War I. In 1914, according to Humphrey Carpenter in J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Tolkien wrote a poem based on a line from the works of an Old English religious poet. Entitled "The Voyage of Earendel, the Evening Star," the poem marked the first appearance in his work of the mariner who sails across the heavens through the night, and was "the beginning of Tolkien's own mythology"—the stories that, edited by Christopher Tolkien, appeared after the author's death in "The History of Middle Earth" series and The Silmarillion. Nearly all of Tolkien's fiction drew on these stories for their background. The Hobbit had at first no connection with Tolkien's legendary histories; he wrote it to please his own children and later remarked that "Mr. Baggins got dragged against my original will" into his imagined mythos. The Lord of the Rings also moved into the realm of legend until it became the chronicle of the last days of the Third Age of Middle Earth. After The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien published a sequence of related poems, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, but the other fiction he published during his lifetime, including the satirical Farmer Giles of Ham, the allegorical "Leaf by Niggle," and Smith of Wootton Major, one of his last works, drew on other sources.

However, Tolkien held another reputation not as well known to readers of his fantasies: he was "in fact one of the leading philologists of his day," Kolich reported. His essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics"—a plea to study the Old English poem "Beowulf" as a poem, and not just as a historical curiosity—is regarded as a classic critical statement on the subject, and his renditions of the Middle English poems "Sir Orfeo," "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," and "Pearl" into Modern English are used as texts in literature classes. His academic work, teaching English language and literature at Leeds and later at Oxford, heavily influenced his fiction. Tolkien himself wrote that "a primary 'fact' about my work [is] that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration."

"'Philology,'" wrote T. A. Shippey in The Road to Middle Earth, quoting Tolkien, "is indeed the only proper guide to a view of Middle Earth 'of the sort which its author may be supposed to have desired.'" Carpenter declared, "There were not two Tolkiens, one an academic and the other a writer. They were the same man, and the two sides of him overlapped so that they were indistinguishable—or rather they were not two sides at all, but different expressions of the same mind, the same imagination."

What is philology? The concise edition of the Oxford English Dictionary—a book that focuses on the meaning of words through time, rather than just their present definition, and on which Tolkien himself worked—derives the word "philology" from two Greek stems: philo, meaning "love of," and logos, meaning "words" or "language," and defines it as "the study of literature in a wide sense, including grammar, literary criticism and interpretation, the relation of literature and written records to history, etc." Tolkien was a philologist in the literal sense of the word: a lover of language. It was a passion he developed early and kept throughout his life, exploring tongues that were no longer spoken and creating languages of his own. Carpenter explained: "It was a deep love for the look and sound of words [that motivated him], springing from the days when his mother had given him his first Latin lesson." After learning Latin and Greek, Tolkien taught himself some Welsh, Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Gothic, a language with no modern descendant—he wrote the only poem known to exist in that tongue. Later he added Finnish to his list of beloved languages; the Finnish epic The Kalevala had a great impact on his Silmarillion, and the language itself, said Carpenter, formed the basis for "Quenya," the High-elven tongue of his stories.

But philology also refers to a discipline: linguistics, the science of language, the application of observed, consistent change of tongues through time to reconstruct languages no longer spoken. After recognizing the common ancestry of certain tongues, philologists devised laws—such as Grimm's Law of Consonants, devised by the great philologist Jacob Grimm, of Grimm's Fairy Tales fame—to describe the changes these languages underwent in their development to modern form. Because the changes were regular, these laws make it possible to reconstruct words that do not exist in written records. Reconstructed words are marked with an asterisk (*) to show that the word in question is inferred and does not appear in any known document. Modern philologists have used the principles of linguistics to recover and interpret ancient languages and their literatures ranging from Mycenaean Linear B script—the language contemporary with The Iliad's heroes—to the Hittite language of Old Testament times.

Throughout his fiction, from the early tales of The Silmarillion to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien exercised his philological talents and training to create an "asterisk-epic"—an inferred history—that revealed elements of the Northern (and especially the English) literature he loved, and of which so little remains. "The dwarf-names of 'Thorin and Company,' as well as Gandalf's," declared Shippey, "come from a section of the Eddic poem Voluspa, often known as the Dvergatal or 'Dwarves' Roster.'" "In the case of the 'ents,'" stated A. N. Wilson in the Spectator, quoting Tolkien, "'as usual with me they grew rather out of their name than the other way about. I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar Anglo-Saxon word ent for a "giant" or a mighty person of long ago—to whom all old works are ascribed.'" Wilson added that Tolkien "was not content to leave the ents as they appear on the page of Beowulf, shadowy, unknown figures of an almost forgotten past." In the opinion of Ursula Le Guin in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction: "That is lovely. That is the Creator Spirit working absolutely unhindered—making the word flesh."

The value of linguistics, or comparative philology, lies in its applicability. Knowing the history of the words forgotten people used can reveal something about the way those people thought and about the modern languages descended from their tongues. Once philologists recognized the relationship between English and Gothic (the oldest recorded Germanic language), for instance, they were able to explain why certain English words are pronounced and spelled the way they are: "a whole series of things which people said, and still say, without in the least knowing why, turn out to have one very old but clear, 100 percent predictable reason. It's almost like genetics," declared Shippey. Historians frequently use linguistic principles to trace patterns of settlement through place names. In England, for example, towns whose names end in the element -caster or -chester (from the Latin castrum, a fort) mark sites where Roman legions built fortifications, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Towns whose names end in -ham or -wich were once inhabited by speakers of Old English; in that language, wic is an encampment or village, while hamme can mean a meadow or a manor-house. Towns whose names end in -by, however, were settled by invading Vikings; byr is an Old Norse term for a dwelling-place. Tolkien, Shippey pointed out, uses place names in a "Celtic 'style,' to make subliminally the point that hobbits were immigrants too, that their land had a history before them." The Carrock, the rocky island in the middle of the river of Wilderland in The Hobbit, is derived from the Welsh carrecc, a rock, while the town of Bree in The Lord of the Rings comes from a Welsh word for a hill.

One of the reasons that philologists have to rely on terms like place names is that so few manuscript sources have survived from ancient times. "The philologist," wrote E. Christian Kopff in Chronicles of Culture, "lives in the tragic world of the partially lost or broken. He knows the eighteenth-century fire that ate away just that page of Beowulf that explains why the dragon attacks after so many years." Of the sixteen epic poems that originally told the entire history of the Trojan War and its aftermath, only Homer's Iliad and Odyssey remain intact; the others survive only in fragments or summaries. But careful examination of the fragments of ancient literature that do survive can often reveal facets of the writer's culture, and can contain echoes of still older tales. In Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode, wrote Kopff, "Tolkien takes a brief and fragmentary tale sung by a bard in Beowulf and a fragment of a separate version of the same story that survives on a single manuscript page and tries to reconstruct the history that lies behind the two sources."

This sense of loss helps explain why Tolkien came to write the history of Middle Earth. "Like Walter Scottor William Morris before him," Shippey observed, "he felt the perilous charm of the archaic world of the North, recovered from bits and scraps by generations of inquiry. He wanted to tell a story about it simply, one feels, because there were hardly any complete ones left." In British Book News, Jessica Yates suggested that Tolkien "began to write The Book of Lost Tales in 1916-17, as his first attempt on 'a mythology for England.' He felt that the English people, as opposed to the Greeks or the Celts for example, had no 'body of . . . connected legend' of their own. All we had was Beowulf (imported from Denmark) and our native fairy stories. So partly with the sense of mission and partly as an escape from the horrors of the First World War, he wrote a series of tales about the creation of the world and the coming of the Elves, of evil Melko and the wars of Elves and Men against him."

Tolkien used the evocative power of language to create his English legend. Names in Tolkien's fiction are not merely identifying sounds, Shippey pointed out; they are also descriptions of the people, places and creatures that bear them. The name Gandalf, for instance, is made up of two Norse words: gandr, a magical implement (probably a staff), and alfr, an elf. Tolkien's Gandalf, therefore, is an elf with a staff, or a wizard. Shippey explains, "Accordingly when Gandalf first appears [in The Hobbit], 'All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff.' . . . He turns out not to be an elf, but by the end of The Lord of the Rings it is clear he comes from Elvenhome." The character Gollum continually refers to himself and to the Ring throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring as "my precious"; Douglas A. Anderson, in his notes to The Annotated Hobbit, cited Constance B. Hieatt, who declared that "Old Norse gull/goll, of which one inflected form would be gollum, means 'gold, treasure, something precious' and can also mean 'ring,' a point which may have occurred to Tolkien." In the last appendix to The Lord of the Rings, Shippey pointed out, Tolkien derives the word hobbit itself from an Old English asterisk-word—*holbytla, meaning "hole-dweller" or "-builder"—although he worked out the meaning long after he first used the word. Tolkien also drew on ancient words for inspiration. Shippey traces the origins of the Balrog—the evil creature Gandalf faces on the bridge in Moria—to an article Tolkien published in two parts in the journal Medium Aevum on the Anglo-Saxon word Sigelhearwan, used to translate Latin biblical references to natives of Ethiopia. Tolkien suggested that the element sigel meant both 'sun' and 'jewel,' and that the element hearwa was related to the Latin carbo, meaning soot. He further conjectured that when an Anglo-Saxon used the word, he did not picture a dark-skinned man but a creature like the fire-giants of Northern myth. "What was the point of the speculation," asked Shippey, "admittedly 'guess-work,' admittedly 'inconclusive?' It offers some glimpses of a lost mythology, suggested Tolkien with academic caution, something 'which has coloured the verse-treatment of Scripture and determined the diction of poems.' A good deal less boringly, one might say, it had helped to naturalise the 'Balrog' in the traditions of the North, and it had helped to create (or corroborate) the image of the silmaril, that fusion of 'sun' and 'jewel' in physical form." In the New York Review of Books, Janet Adam Smith suggested that Tolkien's attitude to language "is part of his attitude to history . . . to recapture and reanimate the words of the past is to recapture something of ourselves; for we carry the past in us, and our existence, like Frodo's quest, is only an episode in an age-long and continuing drama."

Tolkien's ability to use ancient tongues—"tending," according to Shippey, "to focus on names and words and the things and realities which lie behind them"—helps create a sense of history within Middle Earth, a feeling many reviewers have noticed. Joseph McLellan wrote in the Washington Post Book World: "Tolkien's stories take place against a background of measureless depth. . . . That background is ever-present in the creator's mind and it gives Frodo and company a three-dimensional reality that is seldom found in this kind of writing." Shippey explained that Tolkien's use of language "gave The Lord of the Rings a dinosaur-like vitality which cannot be conveyed in any synopsis, but reveals itself in so many thousands of details that only the most biased critical mind could miss them all." Time and Tide correspondent C. S. Lewis stated: "In the Tolkinian world, you can hardly put your foot down anywhere from Esgaroth to Forlindon or between Ered Mithrin and Khand without stirring the dust of history."

Although many readers have viewed The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of modern history (especially of the Second World War), Tolkien explicitly rejected such an interpretation. In the foreword to the Ballantine edition of The Lord of the Rings, he stated, "As for any inner meaning or 'message,' it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical." He continued: "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and have always done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. 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 purposed dominations of the author." He expanded on these comments in a letter to his publisher Stanley Unwin in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: "There is a 'moral,' I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between light and darkness (as [Rayner Unwin] calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phase of history, one example of its pattern, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals—they each, of course, contain universals or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such." Tolkien concluded: "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 always so work. You cannot write a story about an apparently simple magic ring without that bursting in, if you really take the ring seriously, and make things happen that would happen, if such a thing existed."

Tolkien did, however, suggest that his work had an underlying theme. "The Lord of the Rings," he wrote in a letter to the Jesuit Father Robert Murray published in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, "is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." Shippey pointed out that the rejoicing of the forces of the West after the downfall of Sauron in The Return of the King is an example of what Tolkien called a "eucatastrophe." Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher that in his essay "On Fairy Stories," he "coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effects because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth." He went on to explain, "It perceives . . . that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story—and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one." He added: "Of course, I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story."

"A good way to understand The Lord of the Rings in its full complexity," noted Shippey, "is to see it as an attempt to reconcile two views of evil, both old, both authoritative, each seemingly contradicted by the other." To the orthodox Christian, evil does not exist by itself, but springs from an attempt to separate one's self from God—an opinion expressed most clearly in The Consolation of Philosophy, a work by the early medieval thinker Boethius, a Roman senator imprisoned and later executed for his views. Tolkien was probably most familiar with it through King Alfred's Old English translation, made in the ninth century A.D. An alternate view—labelled Manichaean, and considered heretical by the church—is that good and evil are separate forces, equal and opposite, and the world is their battleground. King Alfred's own career, campaigning against marauding Norsemen, wrote Shippey, emphasized the "strong point of a 'heroic' view of evil, the weak point of a Boethian one: if you regard evil as something internal, to be pitied, more harmful to the malefactor than the victim, you may be philosophically consistent but you may also be exposing others to sacrifices to which they have not consented (like being murdered by Viking ravagers or, as The Lord of the Rings was being written, being herded into gas-chambers)." In The Lord of the Rings, Shippey stated, Tolkien strikes a balance between these two views of evil, using the symbol of the shadow: "Shadows are the absence of light and so don't exist in themselves, but they are still visible and palpable just as if they did." Tolkien's attitude "implies the dual nature of wickedness," which can also be found in the Lord's Prayer: "'And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.' Succumbing to temptation is our business, one might paraphrase, but delivering us from evil is God's." Shippey concluded: "At any rate, on the level of narrative one can say that The Lord of the Rings is neither a saint's life, all about temptation, nor a complicated wargame, all about tactics. It would be a much lesser work if it had swerved towards either extreme."

Nonetheless, Tolkien implies consistently that to take The Lord of the Rings too seriously might be a mistake. "I think that a fairy story has its own mode of reflecting 'truth,' different from allegory or (sustained) satire, or 'realism,' and in some ways more powerful," he stated. "But first of all it must succeed just as a tale, excite, please, and even on occasion move, and within its own imagined world be accorded literary belief. To succeed in that was my primary object." Tolkien also wrote: "The tale is after all in the ultimate analysis a tale, a piece of literature, intended to have literary effect, and not real history. That the device adopted, that of giving its setting an historical air or feeling, and (an illusion of ?) three dimensions, is successful, seems shown by the fact that several correspondents have treated it in the same way . . . as if it were a report of 'real' times and places, which my ignorance or carelessness had misrepresented in places or failed to describe properly in others." He concluded: "Having set myself a task, the arrogance of which I fully recognized and trembled at: being precisely to restore to the English an epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own: it is a wonderful thing to be told that I have succeeded, at least with those who have still the undarkened heart and mind."



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