Tolkien among the Moderns
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161 pages

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It has long been recognized that J. R. R. Tolkien's work is animated by a profound moral and religious vision. It is less clear that Tolkien's vision confronts the leading philosophical and literary concerns addressed by modern writers and thinkers. This book seeks to resolve such uncertainty. It places modern writers and modern quandaries in lively engagement with the broad range of Tolkien's work, while giving special attention to the textual particularities of his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings.

In ways at once provocative and original, the contributors deal with major modern artists and philosophers, including Miguel de Cervantes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emmanuel Levinas, Iris Murdoch, and James Joyce. The essays in Tolkien among the Moderns also point forward to postmodernism by examining its implications for Tolkien's work. Looking backward, they show how Tolkien addresses two ancient questions: the problems of fate and freedom in a seemingly random universe, as well as Plato's objection that art can neither depict truth nor underwrite morality. The volume is premised on the firm conviction that Tolkien is not a writer who will be soon surpassed and forgotten—exactly because he has a permanent dwelling place "among the moderns."



Publié par
Date de parution 15 septembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780268096748
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1600€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Edited by
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana
Copyright © 2015 by University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
All Rights Reserved
E-ISBN 978-0-268-09674-8
This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at Copyright © 2015 by University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana 46556 All Rights Reserved Manufactured in the United States of America The publisher gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts toward the publication of this volume. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Tolkien among the moderns / edited by Ralph C. Wood. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-268-01973-0 (paperback) — ISBN 0-268-01973-8 (paper) 1. Tolkien, J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892–1973—Philosophy. 2. Tolkien, J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892–1973—Knowledge—Literature. 3. Philosophy in literature. 4. Postmodernism in literature. I. Wood, Ralph C., editor. PR6039.O32Z8383 2015 823'.912—dc23 2015023726 ∞The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources. -->
Introduction: Tolkien among the Moderns 1 -->
Ralph C. Wood
CHAPTER 1 Philosophic Poet: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Modern Response to an Ancient Quarrel 7 -->
Germaine Paulo Walsh
CHAPTER 2 On Fate, Providence, and Free Will in The Silmarillion 51 -->
Helen Lasseter Freeh
CHAPTER 3 Unlikely Knights, Improbable Heroes: Inverse, Antimodernist Paradigms in Tolkien and Cervantes 79 -->
Michael D. Thomas
CHAPTER 4 Tolkien or Nietzsche; Philology and Nihilism 95 -->
Peter M. Candler, Jr.
CHAPTER 5 A Portrait of the Poet as an Old Hobbit: Engaging Modernist Aesthetic Ontology in The Fellowship of the Ring 131 -->
Phillip J. Donnelly
CHAPTER 6 Pouring New Wine into Old Bottles: Tolkien, Joyce, and the Modern Epic 171 -->
Dominic Manganiello
CHAPTER 7 The Consolations of Fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkien and Iris Murdoch 195 -->
Scott H. Moore
CHAPTER 8 “That the World Not Be Usurped”: Emmanuel Levinas and J.R.R. Tolkien on Serving the Other as Release from Bondage 219 -->
Joseph Tadie
CHAPTER 9 Tolkien and Postmodernism 247 -->
Ralph C. Wood
Contributors 279 --> Index 283 -->
Tolkien among the Moderns
Ralph C. Wood
J.R.R. Tolkien is neither an escapist nor an antiquarian writer. On the contrary, his work addresses the most clamant questions of our age. This collection of essays is devoted to the proposition that Tolkien’s work is animated and undergirded by a profound moral and religious vision. It has been made evident not only by its many formal interpreters but also by the millions of readers who have been braced by it. The Lord of the Rings —like all of Tolkien’s other major texts: “The Monsters and the Critics,” “On Fairy-Stories,” The Hobbit , and, chiefly, The Silmarillion —is imbued with profound ethical and theological concerns. What has gone largely unnoticed, however, is that Tolkien’s work also engages with major literary figures and philosophical movements of our time. Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century , has given glancing notice to Tolkien’s kinship with such apocalyptic writers as George Orwell and William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula Le Guin, and Thomas Pynchon.
Yet Shippey does not explain how Tolkien’s moral vision engages the specific concerns that animate the work of such major modern writers. This book seeks to fill this considerable gap. It does so, not by claiming any literary or historical influences on Tolkien, nor does it take a “view from nowhere,” as if his work could be read while hovering in the ether. Instead, it offers a quite particular “listening from somewhere.” This is to say that we place modern writers and modern quandaries in lively engagement with the textual particularities of Tolkien’s masterpiece, in the conviction that we can thus illumine Lord of the Rings in provocative and constructive ways.
We begin with Germaine Walsh’s contention that Tolkien is strangely modern in his very recourse to things ancient. For in taking up the celebrated quarrel between poetry and philosophy, Walsh maintains that Tolkien answers both of Plato’s objections to creative art: not only the conviction that poetry offers beautiful lies masquerading as truth, but also that poetry undermines morality by depicting both gods and heroes as overcome by passion and thus as living subrational lives. On the contrary, argues Walsh, Tolkien gives us no mere “likeness” of the world but rather a profound experience of its inherent wonder. Even more importantly, Walsh shows that Tolkien depicts the subtleties of moral virtue and its proper development—especially in engaging with the huge and vexed question of the role of women. In a surprising defense of Lord of the Ring ’s primary female character, Éowyn, Walsh demonstrates that Tolkien is indeed a writer for our time.
Bringing us further toward our own era, Helen Lasseter Freeh (in chapter 2) traces Tolkien’s abiding concern with fate and thus with the seeming helplessness of human beings in the face of circumstances that repeatedly overwhelm them. Under the hegemony of modern science, most of us moderns have come to regard ourselves as creatures whose destiny is largely determined by our social and bodily conditions. From a Newtonian kind of determinism, we have adopted another kind of impotence—the kind born of the conviction that the universe is both unsponsored and undirected. On the contrary, Freeh’s analysis of Tolkien’s Silmarillion reveals that all people remain free, not to determine their own destiny in autonomous ways but rather to shape their lives in accord with the deep providential intentions that order the universe.
Approaching our late age still further, Michael Thomas (in chapter 3) links Tolkien to Cervantes in unanticipated ways, showing that—as knights accompanied by comic companions, as heroes doing battle with evils both real and imagined—Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have odd resemblances to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Their improbable comic heroism, Thomas argues, is of their very essence. Yet theirs is not a valor and intrepidity of the antiheroic kind that pervades much of modern literature. Cervantes’s and Tolkien’s heroes serve, albeit often inadvertently, to shore up our confidence that the human quest is indeed a road worth traveling.
In chapter 4, Peter Candler demonstrates that Tolkien answered Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity as unconsciously nihilistic because it was necessarily linguistic. Nietzsche believed that once the language of Christians had been thoroughly deconstructed their faith would collapse. Turning the tables on Nietzsche, Candler argues that Tolkien is not at all troubled by the linguistic character of both divine revelation and human truth. Rather than leading to nihilism, our irreducible linguisticality proves, in Tolkien’s work, to be our abiding hope, since human beings are sacramentally created to participate in the life of the triune God, who creatively speaks all things into being.
Phillip Donnelly argues in chapter 5 that Tolkien’s inset verse narratives in Lord of the Rings embody an alternative to some of the aesthetic and ontological assumptions typical of literary modernism. Three inset narratives in The Fellowship of the Ring , when taken together, imply the artistic development of Bilbo Baggins, from a composer of traveling lyrics and bathing songs to a composer of heroic court poetry on the myth of Eärendil. This alternative story of development in poetic skill ultimately reveals a deeper contrast between Tolkien’s ontology and the vision of reality most commonly assumed by modern authors, including James Joyce.
Dominic Manganiello returns to Joyce again in chapter 6. He argues that Tolkien shared with Joyce the fundamental premise that the great book can serve as an image of the cosmos itself. But whereas Joyce’s Ulysses turns the artist into a countercreator and thus an epic maker of a world without God, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings revives the ancient trope of the world as a book written by human scribes or “subcreators” and thus as glossed by the hand of providence. Tolkien’s paradigm of collaborative authorship, when set alongside Joyce’s antitheological bias, also issues in radically opposed notions of heroism.
In chapter 7, Scott Moore explores still further startling evidence of Tolkien’s link to non-Christian figures—namely, to the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch. She was fascinated with Tolkien’s work, Moore reveals, for very good reason. They were both interested in the remarkable kinds of moral and spiritual consolation that are to be found in fantasy, but they construed the term in almost diametrically opposed ways. Murdoch believed that Tolkien’s work belonged among those few compelling works of art that not only legitimately console their readers but also embody the moral vision that Murdoch thought was indicative of authentic virtue and that she sought to show in her own fiction.

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