From the Classic to the Fantastic: the worlds of Tolkien

Introduction

1. Background

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

Tolkien and Lewis Carroll

Tolkien and the Kalevala

Tolkien and Beowulf

Tolkien and the Nibelungenlied

Tolkien and King Arthur

2. History and Myth

a. The Myth before the Myth: the One Ring

b. On Elves, Dwarves etc'.

3. Social Structure

a. The crews as microcosms of society

b. The Women

c. The Social Outcasts

d. Homosexuality and Lesbianism

e. Inter-Racial Relationships

4. Forms of Government

a. Democracies

b. Dictatorships

c. Utopias/Dystopias

d. Other Forms

5. Politics and International Relations

a. Overview

b. Treaties and Conventions

6. Law and Order through Space and Time

a. Traditional ways of settling legal disputes and reaching verdicts

b. About the contemporary legal system

c. Examples of contemporary Legal Dilemmas

Protection of Privacy

Genetic Engineering/Cloning

Freedom of Information

d. About the futuristic legal system

The Prime Directive

Time Travel and Time Machines

Birth Control

Genetic Engineering

The use of Telepathy and Telekinesis

Criminal Law

Nanotechnology

Cryonics

Definition and Rights of Intelligent Life

Laws of Robotics

Corporate Laws

The Internet and the Control of Information

Election Laws and Procedures

7. Technology

Summary

 

From the Classic to the Fantastic: the worlds of Tolkien

 

Introduction

So much has already been written about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973), that there is nothing left for me to do but move on to a short review of the sources of inspiration for some of the ideas in LotR.

Tolkien there was of the founders of the Quest genre, the story of a group composed of different and even rivaling individual, united, each out of their own motives, and setting out under one flag to an adventurous journey full of heroics on the way to the common goal.

Though he was a very prolific and successful writer, Tolkien has published only a very few purely scientific articles. It's amazing to think that in our times of Publish or Perish, he probably would have never received any academic recognition for his body of work...

1. Background

Tolkien wrote his stories during the Second World War, deeply aware of danger facing his beloved England. He describes an external threat that forces members of four different races to unite and to cooperate, while overcoming prejudices, personal differences and narrow interests for the common goal.

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

Once upon a time there were two friends, Clive and John, who one day bet each other that they could each write a Sci-Fi story. Clive agreed to write a "space travel" story and John a "time travel" story. Clive, who has already written one successful adventure and Fantasy series for children, wrote the Space Trilogy; The first volume was entitled out of the silent planet, The second calls Perelandra (A Genesis story taking place on Venus) and the third was entitled That Hideous Strength. John was too busy too keep his part of the bet; he was already committed to the work that would become one of the greatest literary classics of all times.

Oh, yes, in case you haven't guessed, Clive is Clive Staples Lewis, (1898-1963) author of the Chronicles of Narnia, and John is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings.

Like Tolkien, Lewis exhibits curiosity about the creation of myths and the combining of religious elements into fantasy stories. His Narnia saga also belongs to the Quest genre.

Tolkien and Lewis Carroll

Like Tolkien and C S Lewis who came after him, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson by his real name, was a professor at Oxford University (of mathematics).One of his favorite means of expression was a brand new artistic medium, photography, a pursuit which aroused suspicions of pedophilic tendencies against him (incidentally, according to one unfounded theory, he was also suspected of being Jack the Ripper)

Carroll was as curious as Tolkien abut the rules and logics of language, but verbally, he leaned more towards the use of "nonsense", while Tolkien assigned significance to every word. Carroll's "Alice" tales paved the way to the use of children's Fantasy children, an apparently innocent medium, as a means to the expression of deep philosophical and spiritual ideas, such as Man and his place in the world, good against evil, etc'.

Tolkien and the Kalevala

Tolkien's deepest linguistic influence was probably his discovery of The Kalevala in the original Finnish, a joy he compared to drunkenness. He used it as the primary model for his own language, Quenya. Tolkien was fascinated with the idea oa magic relic so powerful (and metaphorically flexible) that it could serve as the center of an entire heroic epic. The Kalevala's version of the One Ring, the Tsampo, is described so vaguely that to this day scholars debate about what exactly it is. (A ring? A staff? The Golden Fleece?) This enticing ambiguity probably influenced Tolkien's idea that a great story never gives the reader all the answers. He wrote: "Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. "The Kalevalah was collected into a single story in 1849 by Elias L, צnnrot.

Tolkien and Beowulf

Beowulf was the earliest surviving epic poem written in English. It was most likely composed in the seventh or eighth century by an Anglian bard. Beowulf tells the story of a Scandinavian hero and his battles with the beast Grendle, Grendle's mother, and a dragon. Tolkien translated it, taught it, wrote papers about it... it is no exaggeration to say that Beowulf's current position as a "classic" in Western academia is due in no small part to Tolkien's efforts and prestige. Tolkien loved Beowulf because it was the first story he'd ever read by a Christian that portrayed the Pagans not as godless savages, but a sympathetic and noble people. Tolkien saw Beowulf as a magnificent reconciliation between the two cultures. He also loved the great heroes, monsters, swords and orcs (which he borrowed for his own stories).

The basic plot for The Hobbit is borrowed from this offhand line in Beowulf (translation by Seamus Heaney): "...a dragon on the prowl from the sleep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage, unknown to men, but someone managed to enter by it and interfere with the heathen trove. He had handled and removed a gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing, though with a thief's wiles he had outwitted the sleeping dragon; that drove him into rage, as the people of that country would soon discover."

Tolkien even borrows his title from Beowulf: line 2345 reads, "Oferhogaode , נa hringa fengel," usually translated "Yet the prince of the rings was too proud..." This suggests Beowulf's trait of sharing gold rings and other spoils of war with his men, thus earning their loyalty. Tolkien probably translated this title of Beowulf's as "Lord of the Rings." However, there's also a chance that Tolkien borrowed his title from a line of Wagner's: "des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht" ("The lord of the ring is the slave of the ring").

In one if his most prominent academic articles, Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien deals extensively with the Beowulf myth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story has many Movie adaptations, including one made in 1999, one made in 2005 and entitled Beowulf and Grendel, and one made in 2007 also entitled Beowulf.

For Beowulf's Hero's Journey click here.

Tolkien and the Nibelungenlied

 

 

 

Lord of the Rings

Wagner's Ring Cycle

   

Middle Earth ("Midgard" in English)

Midgard

Ugly little creature who first finds the ring in a river (Gollum)

Ugly little creature who first finds the ring in a river (Nibelungen means "ugly little dwarf")

Magic ring that enslaves the wearer and is coveted by others: The One Ring

Magic ring that enslaves the wearer and is coveted by others: The Rhinegold

One Ring turns wearer invisible

Tarnhelm turns wearer invisible

Bilbo challenges Gollum to a riddle game

Wotan challenges Mime to a riddle game

Mysterious figure throws back hood of robe to reveal that he's Gandalf (this idea passed from Norse myth to Wagner to Tolkien to Obi-Wan's first appearance)

Mysterious figure throws back hood of robe to reveal that he's Odin

Character names borrowed from Norse mythology: Gandalf, Thorin, all the dwarves, etc.

Characters borrowed from Norse mythology: Siegfried, Bruennhilde, etc.

Tolkien and King Arthur

One of his Tolkien's goals in writing LOTR was to give England a myth that was truly English. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was his favorite King Arthur story and his translation of the poem (by an anonymous poet) is considered definitive. The title of the third volume in LOTR, the Return of the King is probably inspired by the common British legend that King Arthur, like Christ, will one day return to reward good and punish evil.

For more click here.

See the referenc to the uncanny resemblence between wizards Gandalf and Dumbledore and Merlin, and between Galadriel and the Lady of the Lake;

The king who had to hide his true origin (Aragorn = Arthur) and is aidesd by a powerful wizard on his journey to reclaim the throne;

Thr sword that marks the one who manages to wield it as the true heir to the throne ("Excalibur") – Just like the glass slipper can identify the true Cinderella;

For an online text of the poem as edited by Tolkien click here. Download a PDF version here

2. History and Myth

a. The Myth before the Myth: the One Ring

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

(From the poem inscribed on the One Ring in the Elven Tongue)

The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age (about S.A. 1600) in order to gain dominion over the free peoples of Middle-earth. In disguise as Annatar, or "Lord of Gifts", he aided the Elven smiths of Eregion and their leader Celebrimbor in the making of the Rings of Power. He then forged the One Ring himself in the fires of Mount Doom.

He intended it to be the most powerful of all Rings, able to rule and control those who wore the others. Since the other Rings were themselves powerful, Sauron was obliged to place much of his native power into the One to achieve his purpose.

Creating the Ring simultaneously strengthened and weakened Sauron's power. On the one hand, as long as Sauron had the Ring, he could control the power of all the other Rings, and thus he was significantly more powerful after its creation than before; and putting such a great portion of his own power into the Ring ensured Sauron's continued existence so long as the Ring existed. On the other hand, by binding his power within the Ring, Sauron became dependent on it - without it his power was significantly diminished.

Sauron wielded the ring and waged the War of the Elves and Sauron against the Elves and all others who opposed him. At first the war went well for Sauron and Eregion was destroyed, along with Celebrimbor, the maker of the three rings of the Elves. But King Tar-Minastir of N תmenor sent a great fleet to Middle-earth, and with this aid Gil-galad destroyed Sauron's army and forced Sauron to return to Mordor.

In S.A. 3261 Ar-Pharaz פn, the last and most powerful king of Numenor, landed at Umbar at the head of an immense army to do battle with Sauron. The sheer size and might of the N תmen ףrean army was enough to causSauron's forces to flee. Sauron surrendered to Ar-Pharaz פn and was taken back to N תmenor as a prisoner. Tolkien, in a letter written in 1958 (#211) wrote that the surrender was both "voluntary and cunning" so he could gain access to Nתmenor. Sauron was able to use the N תmen ףreans' fear of death as a way to turn them against the Valar, and toward Melkor-worship and human sacrifice.

Although Sauron's body was destroyed in the Fall of N תmenor his spirit was able to travel back to Middle-earth and wield the One Ring in his renewed war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men between S.A. 3429 and 3441. Tolkien emphasized that Sauron used his ring in N תmenor to gain such complete control over its people; and while Sauron's body perished in the Fall, the Ring somehow made it back to Middle-earth. Tolkien wrote, "I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended." (letter #211).

Sauron was killed again by Gil-galad and Elendil at the end of the Last Alliance. The Ring was cut from Sauron's hand by Isildur on the slopes of Mount Doom. Though counselled to destroy the Ring, he kept it safe instead, "as weregild for my father, and my brother". Isildur in turn was ambushed by Orcs by the River Anduin near the Gladden Fields; he put on the Ring to escape, but it slipped from his finger as he swam across the river, and (suddenly visible) he was killed by the Orcs. Since the Ring indirectly caused Isildur's death, it was known in Gondorian lore as Isildur's Bane.

The Ring remained hidden in the river bed for almost two and a half millennia, until it was discovered on a fishing trip by a Stoor Hobbit named D יagol. He was murdered by his friend and relative Sm יagol, who stole the Ring and was changed by its influence over many ages into the creature known as Gollum. The Ring, which Sauron had endowed with a will of its own, manipulated Gollum into hiding under the Misty Mountains near Mirkwood, where Sauron was beginning to resurface. There Gollum remained for nearly five hundred years, until the Ring tired of him and fell off his finger as he was hunting a goblin.

As is told in The Hobbit, Bilbo found the Ring shortly afterward while lost in the goblin tunnels near Gollum's lair. When The Hobbit was written, Tolkien had not yet conceived of the Ring's sinister history. Thus, in the first edition of The Hobbit, Gollum surrenders the Ring to Bilbo as a reward for winning the Riddle Game. When Tolkien revised the nature of the Ring for The Lord of the Rings, he realized that the Ring's grip on Gollum would never permit him to give it up willingly. Tolkien therefore revised the second edition of The Hobbit: after losing the Riddle Game to Bilbo, Gollum went to get his "Precious" (as he always called it) so he could kill and eat Bilbo, but flew into a rage when he found the Ring missing. Deducing from Bilbo's last question - "What have I got in my pocket?" - that Bilbo had found the Ring, Gollum chased him through the caves, not realizing that the hobbit had discovered the Ring's powers of invisibility and was following him to the cave's exit. Bilbo escaped Gollum and the goblins by remaining invisible, but when he rejoined Gandalf and the dwarves he was travelling with, he decided not to tell them that the Ring had made him invisible. In fact he told them a story that closely followed the first edition of The Hobbit: that Gollum had given him the Ring and showed him the way out. Gandalf was not convinced and later forced the real story from Bilbo; he was thus immediately suspicious of the Ring.

Gollum eventually left the Misty Mountains to track down and reclaim the Ring. He wandered for decades, eventually to be captured and interrogated by Sauron himself, to whom he revealed the existence of Bilbo and the Shire.

In T.A. 3001, following Gandalf's counsel, Bilbo gave the Ring to his adopted heir Frodo. This first willing surrender of the Ring sparks the chain of events that eventually led to its unmaking...

(Source: Wikipedia)

b. On Elves, Dwarves etc'.

 

 

 

3. Social Structure

Middle Earth is the home of several races coexisting in peace and (relative) tranquility - Elves, Dwarfs, Hobbits and Humans. There aren't many details about the social structure of each of them, but apparently kings (probably inspired by the British monarchy) rule them all. The form of government in the Hobbit society, for instance, is unclear. Mayors are elected, but it is unknown whether there is a higher level of government.

a. The crews as microcosms of society

The Fellowship of the Ring is composed of three (?) Humans, four Hobbits, an Elf and a Dwarf, not a very equitable representation….

b. The Women

Interestingly enough, there are no women in the Fellowship of the Ring (Arwen does not count).

c. The Social Outcasts

Each of the members of the Fellowship (with the possible exception of Sam) is basically a social misfit - Frodo's pedigree was considered somewhat inferior, Merry and Pippin were two pranksters on the run, Aragorn was an exiled king, Legolas was an Elven prince who believed in coexistence with both men and dwarves, Gimli was a dwarf who was willing to cooperate with Elves, etc'.

d. Homosexuality and Lesbianism

 

 

e. Inter-Racial Relationships

Aragorn (man) and Arwen (Elf) – She gave up her immortality for him.

4. Forms of Government

 

 

a. Democracies

 

 

b. Dictatorships

(Inter)Galactic Empires, whether or not headed by (evil) Emperors

c. Utopias/Dystopias

 

 

d. Other Forms

 

 

5. Politics and International Relations

 

 

a. Overview

 

 

b. Treaties and Conventions

 

 

6. Law and Order through Space and Time

 

 

a. Traditional ways of settling legal disputes and reaching verdicts

 

 

b. About the contemporary legal system

 

 

c. Examples of contemporary Legal Dilemmas

 

 

Protection of Privacy

 

 

Genetic Engineering/Cloning

 

 

Freedom of Information

 

 

d. About the futuristic legal system

 

 

The Prime Directive

 

 

Time Travel and Time Machines

 

 

Birth Control

 

 

Genetic Engineering

 

 

The use of Telepathy and Telekinesis

 

 

Criminal Law

 

 

Nanotechnology

 

 

Cryonics

 

 

Definition and Rights of Intelligent Life

 

 

Laws of Robotics

 

 

Corporate Laws

 

 

The Internet and the Control of Information

 

 

Election Laws and Procedures

 

 

7. Technology

Medieval "technology" combined with magic.

Summary

The symbolism of the One Ring is a subject of debate among researchers, but most of them agree that it represents power to great to be used safely, and therefore the wise renounce it completely (which of course does not happen in real life, not in Tolkien’s time and certainly not in ours).

The thing to remember is that when Tolkien completed the Hobbit, he had no idea he would have to come up with a follow up to the story of the One Ring.

And on a trivial note, turning Elijah Wood and Sean Astin into Hobbits and Orlando Bloom into an Elf is one thing, but a far more impressing accomplishment is taking a big man like John Rhys-Davies and turning him into a dwarf, taking into account that in real life, Rhys-Davies is taller than Bloom (or, in comparison, taking a big man like Robbie Coltrane and turning him into a giant…)

For Bilbo and Frodo’s hero’s journey click here.