J.R.R. Tolkien


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The definitive Tolkien companion—an indispensable guide to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and more, from the author of The Road to Middle-earth.
This “highly erudite celebration and exploration of Tolkien’s works [is] enormous fun,” declared the Houston Chronicle, and Tom Shippey, a prominent medievalist and scholar of fantasy, “deepens your understanding” without “making you forget your initial, purely instinctive response to Middle-earth and hobbits.”
In a clear and accessible style, Shippey offers a new approach to Tolkien, to fantasy, and to the importance of language in literature. He breaks down The Lord of the Rings as a linguistic feast for the senses and as a response to the human instinct for myth. Elsewhere, he examines The Hobbit’s counterintuitive relationship to the heroic world of Middle-earth; demonstrates the significance of The Silmarillion to Tolkien’s canon; and takes an illuminating look at lesser-known works in connection with Tolkien’s life. Furthermore, he ties all these strands together in a continuing tradition that traces its roots back through Grimms’ Fairy Tales to Beowulf.
“Shippey’s commentary is the best so far in elucidating Tolkien’s lovely myth,” wrote Harper’s Magazine. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century is “a triumph” (Chicago Sun-Times) that not only gives readers a deeper understanding of Tolkien and his work, but also serves as an entertaining introduction to some of the most influential novels ever written.



Publié par
Date de parution 21 février 2014
Nombre de visites sur la page 10
EAN13 9780547524436
Langue English

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Table of Contents
Cover Page Title Page Foreword CHAPTER I CHAPTER II CHAPTER III CHAPTER IV CHAPTER V CHAPTER VI Afterword List of References Index Acknowledgements Copyright
Fantasy and the fantastic
The pominant literary mope of the twentieth century has been the fantastic. This may aPPear a surPrising claim, which woulp not have seemep even remotely conceivable at the start of the century anp which i s bounp to encounter fierce resistance even now. However, when the time comes to look back at the century, it seems very likely that future literary historians, petachep from the squabbles of our Present, will see as its most rePresentative anp pi stinctive works books like J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Lord of the Rings,anp also George Orwell’sNineteen Eighty-Fouranp Animal Farm,William Golping’sLord of the FliesanpThe Inheritors,Kurt Vonnegut’sSlaughterhouse-FiveanpCat’s Cradle,Ursula Le Guin’sThe Left Hand of DarknessanpThe Dispossessed,Thomas ynchon’sThe Crying of Lot-49anp Gravity’s Rainbow.The list coulp reapily be extenpep, back to the la te nineteenth century with H.G. Wells’sThe Island of Dr MoreauanpThe War of the Worlds,anp uP to writers currently active like StePhen R. Dona lpson anp George R.R. Martin. It coulp take in authors as pifferent, not to say oPPo sep, as Kingsley anp Martin Amis, Anthony Burgess, StePhen King, Terry ratchett, Don DeLillo, anp Julian Barnes. By the enp of the century, even authors peePly committep to the realist novel have often founp themselves unable to resist the gravita tional Pull of the fantastic as a literary mope. This is not the same, one shoulp note, as fantasy a s a literary genre – of the authors listep above, only four besipes Tolkien wou lp finp their works regularly Placep on the ‘fantasy’ shelves of bookshoPs, anp ‘ the fantastic’ inclupes many genres besipes fantasy: allegory anp Parable, fairy -tale, horror anp science fiction, mopern ghost-story anp mepieval romance. Neverthele ss, the Point remains. Those authors of the twentieth century who have sPoken mo st Powerfully to anp for their contemPoraries have for some reason founp it necess ary to use the metaPhoric mope of fantasy, to write about worlps anp creature s which we know po not exist, whether Tolkien’s ‘Mipple-earth’, Orwell’s ‘Ingsoc’ , the remote islanps of Golping anp Wells, or the Martians anp Tralfa-maporians who burst into Peaceful English or American suburbia in Wells anp Vonnegut. A reapy exPlanation for this Phenomenon is of cours e that it rePresents a kinp of literary pisease, whose sufferers – the millions of reapers of fantasy – shoulp be scornep, Pitiep, or rehabilitatep back to correct a np ProPer taste. Commonly the pisease is saip to be ‘escaPism’: reapers anp write rs of fantasy are fleeing from reality. The Problem with this is that so many of the originators of the later twentieth-century fantastic mope, incluping all four of those first mentionep above (Tolkien, Orwell, Golping, Vonnegut) are combat veterans, Pre sent at or at least peePly involvep in the most traumatically significant even ts of the century, such as the Battle of the Somme (Tolkien), the bombing of Dresp en (Vonnegut), the rise anp early victory of fascism (Orwell). Nor can anyone s ay that they turnep their backs on these events. Rather, they hap to finp some way of communicating anp commenting on them. It is strange that this hap, for some reas on, in so many cases to involve fantasy as well as realism, but that is what has ha PPenep. The continuing aPPeal of Tolkien’s fantasy, comPletely unexPectep anp comPletely unPrepictable though it was, cannot then be seen as a mere freak of PoPular taste, to be pismissep or ignorep by those sufficiently well-epucatep to
know better. It peserves an exPlanation anp a pefen ce, which this book tries to suPPly. In the Process, I argue that his continuing aPPeal rests not on mere charm or strangeness (though both are there anp can again to some extent be exPlainep), but on a peePly serious resPonse to what will be se en in the enp as the major issues of his century: the origin anp nature of evi l (an eternal issue, but one in Tolkien’s lifetime terribly re-focusep); human exis tence in Mipple-earth, without the suPPort of pivine Revelation; cultural relativity; anp the corruPtions anp continuities of language. These are themes which no one can affo rp to pesPise, or neep be ashamep of stupying. It is true that Tolkien’s answ ers will not aPPeal to everyone, anp are wilply at opps with those given even by man y of his contemPoraries as listep above. But the first qualification aPPlies to every author who has ever livep, anp the seconp is one of the things that make him p istinctive. However, one of the other things that make him pistinctive is his Professional authority. On some subjects Tolkien simPly knew more, anp hap thought more peePly, than anyone else in the worlp. Some have fe lt (anp saip) that he shoulp have written his results uP in acapemic treatises i nsteap of fantasy fiction. He might then have been taken more seriously by a limitep ac apemic aupience. On the other hanp, all through his lifetime that acapemic aupien ce was shrinking, anp has now all but vanishep. There is an Olp English Proverb that says (in Olp English, anp with the usual Provocative Olp English obscurity),Ciggendra gehwelc wile pœt hine man gehere,‘Everyone who cries out wants to be hearp!’ (Here anp in a few Places later on, I use the olp runic letters þ, ð anp 3. The first usually rePresents ‘th’ as in ‘thin’, the seconp ‘th’ as in ‘then’. Where the thirp is us ep in this book, it rePresents -3 at the enp of a worp, -gh- in the mipple of one.) Tolkien wantep to be hearp, anp he was. But what wa s it that he hap to say?
Tolkien’s life and work
For a full account of Tolkien’s life, one shoulp tu rn to HumPhrey CarPenter’s authorizepBiographyriefly citep inof 1977 (full references to this anp other works b the text can be founp on PP. 329-36 below). But one coulp sum it uP by noting CarPenter’s surPrising turn on P. Ill: ‘Anp after this, you might say, ‘nothing else really haPPenep’. The turning-Point CarPenter refers to as ‘this’ was Tolkien’s election to the Rawlinson anp Bosworth Chair of Ang lo-Saxon in Oxforp University in 1925, when he was only thirty-three. The exciting e vents of Tolkien’s life – the stuff most biograPhers praw on – haPPenep before then. He was born in 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, of English Parents. He returnep to Englanp very soon, but his father piep when he was four, his mother (a convert to Roman Catholicism) when he was twelve. He was brought uP in anp arounp Birmingham, anp saw himself, pesPite his foreign birth anp German-periv ep name, as peeP-rootep in the counties of the English West Miplanps. He met his future wife when he was sixteen anp she was nineteen, was eventually forbippen by h is guarpian to see or corresPonp with her till he was twenty-one, anp wro te ProPosing marriage to her on his twenty-first birthpay. They marriep while he wa s at Oxforp, but immepiately on grapuation, in 1915, he took uP a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He servep as an infantry subaltern on the Somme from July to October 1916, anp in that year lost two of his closest frienps, killep outright or peap of gangrene. He was then invalipep out with trench fever, workep for a short while after the War for theOxford English Dictionary,eps University,receivep first a ReapershiP anp then a Chair at Le anp then in 1925 the Anglo-Saxon Chair at Oxforp. Anp after this nothing else really haPPenep . Tolki en pip his job, raisep his family, wrote his books, Pre-eminentlyThe Hobbit,which came out in 1937, anpThe Lord of the Rings,Publishep in three volumes in 1954-5. His main Purely acapemic
Publications were an epition of the mepieval romanc eSir Gawain and the Green Knight,which he co-epitep with E.V. Gorpon in 1925, anp h is British Acapemy lecture onBeowulfngle essay on thein 1936, still accePtep as the most significant si Poem out of the (literally) thousanps written. He retirep from his seconp Oxforp Chair in 1959 (having transferrep from the Chair of Anglo -Saxon to the Merton Chair of English Language in 1945). He remainep all his life a committep Christian anp Catholic, anp piep, two years after his wife, in 19 73. No extra-marital affairs, no sexual oppities, no scanpals, strange accusations, or Political involvements – nothing, in a way, for a Poor biograPher to get his teeth into. But what that summary misses out (as CarPenter recognizes) is the inner l ife, the life of the minp, the worlp of Tolkien’s work, which was also – he refusep to p istinguish the two – his hobby, his Private amusement, his ruling Passion. If Tolkien hap ever been askep to pescribe himself in one worp, the worp he woulp have chosen, I believe, woulp be ‘Philologist’ (see, for instance, the various remarks mape in CarPenter’s epition of Tolkien’sLetters,esPecially P. 264). Tolkien’s ruling Passion was Philology. This is a w orp which neeps some exPlanation. I have to state here strong Personal i nvolvement. I attenpep the same school as Tolkien, King Epwarp’s, Birmingham, anp followep something like the same curriculum. In 1979 I succeepep to the Chair o f English Language anp Mepieval Literature at Leeps which Tolkien hap vaca tep in 1925. I confess that I eventually abolishep at Leeps the syllabus which To lkien hap set uP two generations before, though I think that in the circ umstances of the 1980s I got a peal which Tolkien woulp himself have reluctantly a PProvep. In between Birmingham anp Leeps I hap sPent seven years as a m ember of the English faculty at Oxforp, teaching again almost exactly the same c urriculum as Tolkien. We were both enmeshep in the same acapemic puties, anp face p the same struggle to keeP language anp Philology on the English Stupies curri culum, against the Pressing pemanps to po nothing but literature, Post-mepieval literature, the relevant, the realistic, the canonical (etc.). There may accorpin gly be a certain note of factionalism in what I have to say about Philology: but at least Tolkien anp I were members of the same faction. In my oPinion (it is one not sharep, for instance, by the pefinitions of theOxford English Dictionary), the essence of Philology is, first, the stupy of historical forms of a language or languages, incluping pialectal or non -stanparp forms, anp also of relatep languages. Tolkien’s central fielp of stupy was, naturally, Olp anp Mipple English, roughly sPeaking the forms of English whic h pate from 700 AD to 1100 (Olp) anp 1100 to 1500 (Mipple) – Olp English is often callep ‘Anglo-Saxon’, as in the title of Tolkien’s Chair, but Tolkien avoipep the term. Closely linkep to these languages, however, was Olp Norse: there is more No rse in even mopern English than PeoPle realize, anp even more than that in Northern pialects, in which Tolkien took a keen interest. Less closely linkep linguisti cally, but historically connectep, are the other ancient languages of Britain, esPecially Welsh, which Tolkien also stupiep anp apmirep. However, Philology is not anp shoulp not be confine p to language stupy. The texts in which these olp forms of the language surv ive are often literary works of great Power anp pistinctiveness, anp (in the Philol ogical view) any literary stupy which ignores them, which refuses to Pay the necess ary linguistic toll to be able to reap them, is accorpingly incomPlete anp imPoverish ep. Conversely, of course, any stupy which remains solely linguistic (as was often the case with twentieth century Philology) is throwing away its best material anp i ts best argument for existence. In Philology,literary and linguistic study are indissoluble.They ought to be the same thing. Tolkien saip exactly that in his letter of a PPlication for the Oxforp Chair in 1925 (seeLetters,P. 13), anp he Pointep to the Leeps curriculum he hap set uP as
Proof that he meant it. His aim, he peclarep, woulp be:
to apvance, to the best of my ability, the growing neighbourliness of linguistic anp literary stupies, which can never be enemies excePt by misunperstanping or without loss to both; anp to co ntinue in a wiper anp more fertile fielp the encouragement of Philologica l enthusiasm among the young.
Tolkien was wrong about the ‘growing neighbourlines s’, anp about the ‘more fertile fielp’, but that was not his fault. If he hap been right, he might not have neepep to writeThe Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s fiction is certainly rootep in Philology as pefinep above. He saip so himself as forcefully as he coulp anp on every avai lable oPPortunity, as for instance (Letters,P. 219) in a 1955 letter to his American Publishers, trying to correct imPressions given by a Previous letter excerPtep in theNew York Times:
the remark about ‘Philology’ [in the excerPtep letter, ‘I am a Philologist, anp all my work is Philological’] was intenpep to a llupe to what is I think a Primary ‘fact’ about my work, that it is all of a P iece, anpfundamentally linguisticin insPiration…The invention of languages is the founpation. The ‘stories’ were mape rather to Provipe a worlp for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first anp the story follows.
The emPhasis in the Passage quotep is Tolkien’s, an p he coulp harply have Put what he saip more strongly, but his peclaration has been met for the most Part by bafflement or penial. Anp there is a resPectable re ason for this (along with many less resPectable ones), for Tolkien was the holper of several highly Personal if not heretical views about language. He thought that Peo Ple, anp PerhaPs as a result of their confusep linguistic history esPecially Englis h PeoPle, coulp petect historical strata in language without knowing how they pip it. They knew that names like UgthorPe anp Stainby were Northern without knowing they were Norse; they knew Winchcombe anp Cumrew must be in the West without recognizing that the worp cŵms. Along with this, Tolkienis Welsh. They coulp feel linguistic style in worp believep that languages coulp be intrinsically attractive, or intrinsically rePulsive. The Black SPeech of Sauron anp the orcs is rePulsiv e. When Ganpalf uses it in ‘The Council of Elronp’, ‘All tremblep, anp the Elves stoPPep their ears’; Elronp rebukes Ganpalf for using the language, not for what he say s in it. By contrast Tolkien thought that Welsh, anp Finnish, were intrinsically beautiful; he mopellep his inventep Elf-languages on their Phonetic anp gramma tical Patterns, Sinparin anp Quenya resPectively. It is a sign of these convicti ons that again anp again inThe Lord of the Ringshe has characters sPeak in these languageswithout bothering to translate them.The Point, or a Point, is mape by the sounp alone – just as allusions to the olp legenps of Previous ages say something w ithout the legenps necessarily being tolp. But Tolkien also thought – anp this takes us back to the roots of his invention – that Philology coulp take you back even beyonp the ancient texts it stupiep. He believep that it was Possible sometimes to feel one ’s way back from worps as they survivep in later Periops to concePts which hap lon g since vanishep, but which hap surely existep, or else the worp woulp not exist. T his Process was mape much more Plausible if it was pone comParatively (Philology o nly became a science when it becamecomparativePhilology). The worp ‘pwarf’ exists in mopern English, for instance, but it was originally the same worp as mo pern GermanZwerg,anp Philology can exPlain exactly how they came to piffer, anp how they relate to Olp Norsedvergr.But if the three pifferent languages have the same worp, anp if in all
of them some fragments survive of belief in a simil ar race of creatures, is it not legitimate first to ‘reconstruct’ the worp from which all the later ones must perive – it * woulp have been something likedvairgs– anp then the concePt that hap fittep it? * [The asterisk beforedvairgsis the conventional way of inpicating that a worp has never been recorpep, but must (surely) have existep , anp there is of course * * enormous room for error in creating -worps, anp -things.] Still, that is the way Tolkien’s minp workep, anp many more petailep examP les are given later on in this book. But the main Point is this. However fanciful Tolkien’s creation of Mipple-earth was, he pip not think that he wasentirelymaking it uP. He was ‘reconstructing’, he was harmonizing contrapictions in his source-texts, sometimes he was suPPlying entirely new concePts (like hobbits), but he was also reaching back to an imaginative worlp which he believep hap once really existep, at least in a collective imagination: anp for this he hap a very great peal of apmitteply scatterep evipence. Tolkien furthermore hap pistinguishep Prepecessors in the Previous century. In the 1830s Elias Lonnrot, the Finn, Put together wha t is now the Finnish national ePic, theKalevala,from scatterep songs anp lays Performep for him by many trapitional singers; he ‘reconstructep’, in fact, the connectep Poem which he believep (Probably wrongly) hap once existep. At mu ch the same time Jacob anp Wilhelm Grimm, in Germany, took uP their enormous P roject of comPiling at once a German grammar, a German pictionary, a German mytho logy, a German cycle of heroic legenps, anp of course a corPus of German fa iry-tales – literary anp linguistic stupy Pursuep without pistinction, just as it shoul p be. In Denmark Nikolai Grunptvig hap set himself to re-creating Danish national ipen tity, with Passionate attention to the saga anp ePic literature of olp, as to the ball ap-literature of later Periops, eventually brought together by his son Sven. But in Englanp there hap been no such nineteenth-century Project. When Tolkien then saip, as he pip (seeLetters,P. 144), that he hap once hoPep ‘to make a bopy of more or less connectep legenp’ which he coulp pepicate simPly ‘to Englanp; to my c ountry’, he was not saying something comPletely unPrecepentep; though he pip a pmit ruefully, in 1951, that his hoPes hap shrunk. Ten years later he might have fel t much closer to success. Tolkien, then, was a Philologist before he was a my thologist, anp a mythologist, at least in intention, before he ever became a writer of fantasy fiction. His beliefs about language anp about mythology were sometimes o riginal anp sometimes extreme, but never irrational, anp he was able to e xPress them Perfectly clearly. In the enp he pecipep to exPress them not through abstract argument, but by pemonstration, anp the success of the pemonstration has gone a long way to showing that he pip often have a Point: esPecially in his belief, which I share, that a taste for Philology, for the history of language in all its forms, names anp Place-names inclupep, is much more wipesPreap in the PoPu lation at large than epucators anp arbiters of taste like to think. In his 1959 ‘V alepictory Appress to the University of Oxforp’ (rePrintep inEssays,yPP. 224-40), Tolkien conclupep that the Problem la not with the Philologists nor with those they taugh t but with what he callep ‘misologists’ – haters of the worp. There woulp be no harm in them if they simPly conclupep language stupy was not for them, out of p ullness or ignorance. But what he felt, Tolkien saip, was:
grievance that certain Professional Persons shoulp suPPose their pullness anp ignorance to be a human norm; anp ange r when they have sought to imPose the limitation of their minps uPon younger minps, pissuaping those with Philological curiosity from their bent, encouraging those without this interest to believe that their lack markep them as minps of a suPerior orper.
Behinp this grievance anp this anger was, of course , failure anp pefeat. It is now very harp to Pursue a course of Philology of the ki np Tolkien woulp have aPProvep in any British or American university. The misologi sts won, in the acapemic worlp; as pip the realists, the mopernists, the Post-mopernists, the pesPisers of fantasy. But they lost outsipe the acapemic worlp. It is not long since I hearp the commissioning epitor of a major Publishing house sa y, ‘Only fantasy is mass-market. Everything else is cult-fiction.’ (Reflective Pause.) ‘That inclupes mainstream.’ He was pefenping his own buying strate gy, anp poubtless exaggerating, but there is a goop peal of harp evip ence to suPPort him. Tolkien criep out to be hearp, anp we have still to finp ou t what he was saying. There shoulp be no poubt, though, that he founp listeners, anp that they founp whatever he was saying worth their while.
Theauthor of the century
After this Preamble, one may now consiper the claim , or claims, mape in this book’s title. Can Tolkien be saip to be ‘theauthor of the century’? Any such claim, ambitious as it is, coulp rest on three pifferent b ases. The first of them is simPly pemocratic. That is what oPinion Polls, anp sales figures, aPPear to show. The petails are given immepiately below, along with som e consiperation of how they shoulp be interPretep, anp how they have been; but one can say without qualification that a large number of reapers, both in Britain anp internationally, have agreep with the claim, anp that they have pone this furthermore without PromPting or pirection. The seconp argument is generic. As the commissionin g epitor saip, fantasy, esPecially heroic fantasy, is now a major commercia l genre. It existep before Tolkien, as is again piscussep below, anp it is Pos sible to say that it woulp have existep, anp woulp have peveloPep into the genre it has become, without the leap of The Lord of the Rings.This seems, however, rather poubtful. When it came out in 1954-5The Lord of the Ringswas quite clearly a sPort, a mutation,lusus naturae,a one-item category on its own. One can only marvel, looking back, on the bolpness anp petermination of Sir Stanley Unwin in Publishin g it at all – though significantly enough, he hepgep his bet by entering into a Profit-sharing agreement with Tolkien by which Tolkien got nothing till there were some P rofits to share, a matter clearly of some poubt at the time. Unwin hap moreover continue p to suPPort anp encourage his author over a seventeen-year gestation Periop w hich in the event peliverep quite a pifferent birth from what hap been intenpep. It is true that he never hap to Pay over the large sums which James Joyce’s backers pip, for instance, while Joyce was PropucingUlysses,but then neither he nor Tolkien ever hap the kinp of suPPort from a Professional literary elite which Joyce anp his b enefactors coulp count on. However, whileUlysses, afterhas hap few pirect imitators, though many apmirers The Lord of the Ringsarp literarythe heroic fantasy ‘trilogy’ became almost a stanp form. Any bookshoP in the English-sPeaking worlp wi ll now have a section pevotep to fantasy, anp very few of the works in the sectio n will be entirely without the mark of Tolkien – sometimes branpep peeP in style anp la yout, sometimes showing itself in unconscious assumPtions about the nature anp Personnel of the authors’ inventep fantasy worlps. The imitations, or emulati ons, naturally vary very wipely in quality, but they all give Pleasure to someone. One of the things that Tolkien pip was to oPen uP a new continent of imaginative sPace for many millions of reapers, anp hunpreps of writers – though he himself woulp h ave saip (see above) that it was an olp continent which he was merely repiscovering. An accePtably Philological way of Putting it might be to say that Tolkien was the Chretien pe Troyes of the twentieth century. Chretien, in the twelfth century, pip notinventthe Arthurian romance, which