Tolkien and Modernity 1
Cormarë Series No. 9.
This paper, first presented at Tolkien 2005: The Ring Goes Ever On at Aston University, UK, situates Tolkien in the cultural and literary context of his time, and argues that, Modernism aside, his work is representative of late nineteenth and twentieth century preoccupations. The aim of the essay is to sketch a picture of Tolkien’s historical moment, concentrating on analogues rather than sources to demonstrate his place in the contemporary milieu. The paper looks at Tolkien in relation to the following: the romantic critique of industrial society, late-Victorian historical reconstructions, the fantasy tradition of Haggard, Chesterton and Morris, the rural nostalgia of the Edwardian period and the interwar years — both in its literary and sociological manifestations — the patriotic writing of the Great War, ideas of national character and Little Englandism, and political anti-statism of the Orwellian mould. Potential lines of further inquiry are suggested throughout.
ANNA VANINSKAYA is a Marshall Scholar and D.Phil. candidate in English Literature at Oxford University. Her research focuses on late nineteenth and early twentieth century romance writing, historiography, and socialist propaganda. She is interested in the intersection between politics and genre, as well as in concepts of Englishness, and fantasy literature. Ms. Vaninskaya has published essays and articles on William Morris, George Orwell, and Robert Blatchford in conference proceedings and journals like Utopian Studies and Contemporary Justice Review.
While female characters in Tolkien’s fiction are indeed fewer and apparently less prominent than male ones, those which stand out are undisputedly among his most powerful creations. They also show quite clearly that the radical changes in the condition of women that happened during Tolkien’s lifetime affected the author much more that one might be led to believe from a superficial reading of his work. This essay is mainly concerned with two characters that I consider to be closest to modern ideas of women’s roles: the elf-maiden Lúthien and the warrior princess Éowyn. The image of modern femininity they both convey goes beyond the obvious aspects of strength and independence in order to embrace the fundamental value of creativity as a life-affirming force.
MARIA RAFFAELLA BENVENUTO, born and based in Rome, Italy, has got a degree in English Language and Literature and is currently studying for a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. Her interest in Tolkien dates back from the early ‘80s. She is one of the editors of the Italian translation of Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth, which was published in December 2005. She has also contributed four articles to the forthcoming The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (due in the autumn of 2006) and participated to Birmingham’s Tolkien 2005 conference with a paper on the Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings. At the time of writing, she is working on the Italian translation of Vincent Ferré’s Sur les rivages de la Terre du Milieu and Verlyn Flieger’s Splintered Light, as well as on several other projects based on Tolkien and related subjects, such as fairy tales.
J.R.R. Tolkien has been accused of sexism more than once. Such an accusation can be easily proven wrong by analyzing strong, active female characters from his work, such as Éowyn, or protagonists that do not fit the (male) ideal of the submissive and self-sacrificing wife, such as Erendis. Furthermore, Tolkien’s deep understanding of women and modern women’s issues is also revealed in his other female characters, even those whose roles are more traditional and less active.
LAURA MICHEL (Guadalajara, Mexico, 1971) has an undergraduate degree in applied linguistics and has completed her studies in the Master’s Programme in Translation offered at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, where she taught linguistics and literature (and a bit of Tolkien) for eleven years. The Lord of the Rings became her favourite book when she read it at age fourteen. She has conducted literary workshops since 1990 and edited several issues of the science-fiction and fantasy fanzine Laberinto (Guadalajara, 1992-99). She did most of the writing for the monograph issue on J.R.R. Tolkien of Plan B magazine (Mexico City, 2002) and The Lord of the Rings special supplement of the Cinemania magazine (Mexico City, 2001). Her fiction has been published in several anthologies, newspapers, and magazines.
Tolkien, during his entire life, felt affected by a fundamental loss typical of his time: that of true simplicity, transpiring through ancient languages and texts, that characterised an ancient way of being-in-the-world. This loss is linked to the appearance of the modern man, who no longer has a direct relationship with things: he is partly separated from the world and observes it through an intermediary: reason. Therefore he is no longer truly ‘simple’. Nonetheless, Tolkien had his heart set on recovering this pre-modern simplicity – for instance by emphasising the values of the Hobbits or by adopting a creative process devoid of sophistication – notably because the ‘evocative power’ of the texts and languages of ancient times to him seemed far superior to that of modern versions. However, ultimately Tolkien would shape a new form of simplicity adapted to the present time because he knew that the original form could not be recovered. This new simplicity takes its place in the middle between what we shall call the ‘truly earthy’ and the ‘absolutely modern’.
BERTRAND ALLIOT, University of Marne-la-Vallée, France. Doctoral candidate specialising in Political Science whose thesis focuses on the idea of nature within Western civilisation.
Tolkien, the Inklings and writers of fantasy post WW II set a standard by utilizing fantasy as a means to convey moral, religious, spiritual thoughts and ‘truths’ of our primary world. Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy Stories’ best details his thought process concerning how this is accomplished. Through successful ‘sub-creation’ we are fulfilling the Maker’s will by imitating Creation and creating in the image of which we were created. As sub-creator, we can provide a successful escape through the means of fantasy, creating a believable secondary world, in which we can learn as we were meant to, i.e. through communion with beast and bird, and experience the reality of nature as opposed to machine. A believable secondary world was created in the same fashion as the Creator, through word and language.
Since Tolkien’s time and the establishment of this thought, modern society and culture has warped and perverted, consciously or unconsciously, the tasks, clearly spoken about by Tolkien, the Maker has set before us. Fantasy and escape is now a means of detachment from, rather than a communion with, our world. Has our world sought to enrich creation through fantasy? Are machines and industry now more ‘real?’ Are Tolkien’s insights only contained within academic and artistic circles? Are we fulfilling the Maker’s will by creating with words and language, or are we perverting words and language for gain, greed through commercialism, and materialism? Are we any further along to uncovering truths or becoming a harmonic whole, or have we fallen further?
Tolkien, in his fiction and critical papers, shared his insights regarding Creation, sub-creating, the will of the Maker, the tasks of man, the Fall of Man, and where our modern world stands in all of this during his time. This paper seeks to find out whether modern society and culture has succeeded in furthering the tasks and will of the Maker, as well as Tolkien’s insights, or has indeed fallen further from accomplishing them.
JESSICA BURKE (co-chairman Heren Istarion: The North East Tolkien Society, editor-in-chief of Parma Nöl´) was born in 1974 in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of The City University of New York, Ms. Burke has studied anthropology, folklore, medieval literature, mysticism, 19th-century literature, Arthuriana, and Judeo-Christian theology. She has written extensively on the legends of Arthur, the poetry of Edmund Spenser, and, of course, Tolkien. Ms. Burke is an aspiring author of medieval fantasy, much influenced by the works of J.R.R Tolkien. Her first experience with his writing came after an excursion to the N.Y. Public Library at the age of five, where she borrowed a recording of Professor Tolkien reading the chapter ‘Riddles in the Dark’ from The Hobbit.
ANTHONY SCOTT BURDGE (founder, co-chairman and webmaster of Heren Istarion: The North East Tolkien Society), who has walked the paths of Middle-earth since an early age, is an independent scholar. Mr. Burdge’s studies range includes Norse mythology, medieval literature, native American literature & culture, and Judeo-Christian ideology and text. His interest in Tolkien grew from the age of eight, when he received his first copy of The Hobbit. Over the last decade Mr. Burdge has delved into the mythological world while studying the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. He is an aspiring writer and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature by Oxford University Press, The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia by Routledge and has spoken at numerous universities and conferences. For a more complete list of publications for both Mr. Burdge & Ms. Burke please visit:
Determinism plays a crucial role in considerations on ethics and free will. This is true for the real world as well as for invented worlds like Middle-earth. This paper discusses the issue of determinism and non-determinism in reality and fiction on a basic level and in conclusion shows how free will might very well exist as a fact in the invented world of Middle-earth.
FRANK WEINREICH studied philosophy, communication sciences and politics in the early Nineties and holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Vechta. He is working as independent scholar, freelance author and editor in Bochum, Germany since 2001. His interests focus on ethics, bioethics, media ethics, technology assessment, education, new media, fantasy and science fiction and, of course, on Tolkien’s works. He has published numerous books, articles and essays and is co-editor of Hither Shore, the Scholarly Journal of the German Tolkien Society and co-editor of Stein und Baum, a German source for fantasy literature and works on fantasy. He may most easily be contacted through his professional homepage www.textarbeiten.com or via his private Tolkien-Site which at the moment carries nearly forty articles, essays and stories on Tolkien and Middle-earth: www.polyoinos.de/tolk_stuff.
J.R.R. Tolkien was certainly no modernist; rather, he was what we might call a traditionalist – some might even have called him a Luddite. But this does not mean that his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, as well as its various satellite works, fails to exhibit some of the qualities of modernity. Indeed, one reason for Tolkien’s unabated popularity can be ascribed to the fact that his works concern themselves with perennial problems of the Human Condition. Among these are good and evil, life and death and – the subject of this chapter – free will and destiny. I will argue that, whether or not the question of free will can ever be finally settled in the Primary World, Tolkien nevertheless believed in it and endowed his own creations with it. In order to establish this, I will trace the relevant history of free will as a matter for philosophical and religious debate, examine the marks the subject has left in the works of the Inklings in general and of Tolkien in particular, and then trace free will (and its partner, providence) through Tolkien’s fictive Secondary World of Middle-earth.
JASON FISHER, an independent scholar from Dallas, TX, was educated at Texas A&M University in English, Philosophy, and Psychology. Most recently, Jason has written a series of articles for The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (edited by Michael Drout and forthcoming from Routledge in 2006). He is also currently at work on a contribution for another Walking Tree Publications project celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion (edited by Allan Turner). In addition, Jason has presented papers on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings in a variety of academic settings.
The question of freedom and determination is a very actual and important question in our modern societies. From a theological viewpoint, it is combined with the question about divine providence and Gods acting in history. This seems to contradict modern concepts of freedom.
In this article, I consider whether the depiction of freedom and providence in Tolkien’s fictional works (especially Middle-earth) can be understood in the context of Catholic theology as well as Tolkien’s time as an anti-modern element in his work or rather as a contribution to combine Christian theology and modern concepts. Therefore, I am dealing with free will, freedom of choice and freedom of action in Middle-earth as characteristic features of the created beings in Middle-earth as well as the acting of Ilúvatar throughout history. Subsequently I analyse the patterns of determination and providence in Middle-earth and the way this is combined with the individual freedom.
THOMAS FORNET-PONSE studied Catholic theology, philosophy, and ancient history in Bonn and Jerusalem. He is working as a research assistant at the seminar of Fundamental Theology at Bonn University. His research interests focus on philosophical and theological analyses of Tolkien and other (fantasy) authors, ecumenical problems, Jewish-Christian dialogue and ‘classical’ questions of Fundamental Theology. He is a committee member of the German Tolkien Society and is the conceptual coordinator of the Tolkien Seminars as well as Hither Shore. He has published several articles on theological and philosophical questions in the works of Tolkien and Pratchett.
The various peoples of Middle-earth differ not only in their languages, but also in their ways of living together as a nation or at least a community. It is not so much the microanalysis of individual cooperation, as in the Fellowship, but the (by critics lesser valued) governments that are of interest in this article. The possibilities range from the totalitarian dictatorship in Mordor to the human monarchies to the idealized self-control of the Hobbits. We assume that these forms of government are not arbitrarily placed by Tolkien; instead, they relate to the respective peoples and to the fictional world of Middle-earth, hence adding substance to the novel as a whole. We can further assume that the events of the early and middle 20th century, among them the rise of the European dictatorships, had their share in contributing to the novel as it is now. Yet this does not mean that each and every aspect of the fictional governments could be allegorically translated into patterns of reality. It will become clear that there is indeed a close relationship between the peoples and their respective governments; that they share strengths and weaknesses. Comparing the implicitly and explicitly judging commentaries of the forms of government, we will see that the narration does not actively support democracy as a whole, but instead focuses on each individual’s own responsibility.
ALEXANDER VAN DE BERGH has studied English, American and German literature and psychology at the Justus-Liebig-Universiy of Giessen. His focus is on the fantastic branch of literature, including science fiction and fantasy. Currently he is working on his dissertation on the topic ‘The Beauty of the Beast: Love Between Humans and Non-Humans in English and American Fantastic Literature’. His latest publication is: Mittelerde und das 21. Jahrhundert. Zivilisationskritik und alternative Gesellschaftentwürfe in J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings. Trier: WVT, 2005. He is chairperson of the section ‘Phantastische Welten’ at the ‘Gießener Graduiertenzentrum Kulturwissenschaften’ and he is working as a translator for Nintendo of Europe.