Na pervuyu stranicu
Arhivy Minas-TiritaArhivy Minas-Tirita
  Annotirovanniy spisok razdelov sayta

Lauri Linask (Tartu State University)

Мyth and reality in the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Учёные записки Тартуского государственного университета, вып. 626. Проблема античной и зарубежной литературы. Миф и реальность. Труды по романо-германский филологии. Литературоведение. 1982., с.с. 14-25.

   J.R.R. Tolkien's literary accomplishment has already been widely commented upon in the English-speaking countries but the opinions as to the place of his work in world literature have been diametrical: his art has been either praised or angrily discarded as completely valueless. He can by no means be called a progressive writer but as far as he is critical of certain aspects of the capitalist society, and has thus become a representative of a certain escapist trend, his work deserves impartial study.

   J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy "The Lord of the Kings", which was published in 1955, is certainly one of the most extraordinary phenomena of the 20th-century world literature. It is extraordinary in the sense that, although fantasies, imaginary worlds and artificial myths have been created by different writers both in this and in the previous centuries, no writer has to such extent baffled the reader with scrupulosity of this kind, with the extremely elaborate and intricate nature of the narrative, with the inviolable exactitude in which Tolkien has invested his story. The impulse to a recent upsurge of criticism in English-speaking countries, hitherto predominantly positive, was initially given by his trilogy, which thus has one more merit in addition to its literary value - it provoked an interest in Tolkien's other works. As the aim of this article is not to give a detailed and all-round survey of his literary accomplishments but to analyse the interrelations of fantasy and myth, on the one hand, and reality, one the other, and also present his views on the theory of fantasy, suffice it here to name only some of his other publications: "The Hobbit or There and Back Again" (1937) and "The Silmarillion" (published posthumously in 1977). His scholarly works include two essays "Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics" (1936) and "On Fairy-Tales" (1938) where he expressed his general views on mythology and fantasy that found practical application in his works of fiction.

   Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the imaginary world that he created, actually started as an exercise in linguistics because in the 1930s he tried to publish a survey of his own "Elvish languages "which he failed to present to a larger audience and thereafter started to build a whole world around the initial exclusively linguistic ambitions. If his obsession with imaginary languages is taken as content, the form, that is the later conceived material surroundings - his Middle-Earth, has also its far-reaching philosophical roots. Throughout his life Tolkien advocated nature conservation and, like the French enlightener Rousseau, he seems to find the solution to all mankind's problems in an allegiance to and an alliance with nature and rebukes all attempts at its humanly selfish exploitation. One of his greatest drawbacks, however, lies in the fact that for Tolkien these ideas snowballed into a kind of idiosyncrasy that consists in his loudly proclaimed hostility towards both technical and social progress, and finds manifestation throughout his literary work. As a product of his society he might be justified in choosing the course of withdrawal from civilization in the narrower sense of the word but when he voiced angry protests against the conveniences that technical progress had provided, identifying them with the reactive force of estrangement from nature, he was bound to be pathetically late. The rural atmosphere where he spent his childhood, the two world wars that he survived, his general conservatism and orthodox religious views, all those brought about the result that he spent his whole life building a kind of refuge to recall the idealized image of his childhood times in fantasy. He had to witness international and domestic confrontations that greatly shattered the foundations of his society and thereby also his smug ivory tower. As a conservative by nature and conviction he could not see the dialectical element in every confrontation and therefore he would have liked the status quo of a sort of feudal society retained, and that is exactly what he defines as "nature" in his fight against progress. He must have been aware of the irreversible nature of history but he most probably did not see the antagonism between his wishful thinking and the due course of evolution. His only alternative was escape and, though it was not conceived as absolute withdrawal from real life but rather a means of tolerating it, essentially it is of the same practical value as any religion or social myth. Yet Tolkien cannot be considered a self-styled prophet only because within the limits of his mythical fantasy world he has presented an optimistic panegyric to humaneness, to everything good inherent in an intelligent human being. His convictions could have moulded him into an outright pessimist yet his message is not bewailing but he rather gives a warning that man should be wise enough to avoid both oral and physical destruction. His escape or withdrawal is advertised as something that helps man to counter-attack any step of reality directed at paralysing humaneness in him. Whatever subject matter, method or genre Tolkien has chosen, the practical outcome remains ever topical for his uncompromising devotion to freedom, justice, and human goodness, the universal ideals for every human being, either an idealist or a materialist, pagan, Christian or atheist.

   This information should be taken as an illustration to the background of Tolkien as a writer. Before dealing with his views on fantasy it should be pointed out that in his theoretical works it is difficult to detect any difference between myth and fantasy and the terms have often been used interchangeably. In principle this might be arguable but in Tolkien's case there really seems to be no difference. According to universally accepted definitions "The Hobbit" could be classified as a fairy-tale for children, "The Lord of the Rings" is already much more ambitious, being a kind of inprecedentedly long and elaborate fairy-tale, for both children and adults, with a strong mythological element, but "The Silmarillion" is the mythology of not only a nation or an ethnic group but a whole world. It lacks only one characteristic feature of a myth, that at some point in history it has been universally believed, owing to the fact that it is artificial. Therefore, in Tolkien's case, there is probably no need to differentiate between fantasy and myth because the author has not made it in bis theoretical works and his literary work justifies that point of view.

   In the 1930s Tolkien presented his views and principles on the functions and methods of mythological or fantastic imagination in the two above-mentioned essays. He maintained that his contemporaries (with whom we can in this context identify ourselves in the 1980s as well because the tendencies that he opposed have greatly developed in 50 years) had forgotten that the mythological imagination, put in a corresponding literary form, could deal with serious philosophical and moral issues relevant to our time. According to his belief "a ... mythology can deepen rather than cloud our vision of reality" (Helms, В., 1974-, p.3) and that is what he tried to explain in his "Beowulf" essay. One of the most acute problems for him has been that of radical evil and, though the scale and aspects have been different, all his three major works recount a fight against evil in one or another form. Grendel in "Beowulf" belongs generically into the same class as the dragon Smaug in "The Hobbit", Sauron and his Ringwraiths in the trilogy, or the evil spirit Melkor and his servants in "The Silmarillion"╩ Tolkien greatly justifies imaginary creatures as embodiments of evil because "a dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men's imagination" (An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, 1963, P. 64). It is quite obvious that if there is no dragon, there can be no heroes. In the folklore of many nations a similar issue can be found, there are "these two primary features: the dragon and the slaying of him by the greatest of heroes" (Ibid., p. 72). Tolkien has thus come to a value that is inherent in human imagination - capacity to mythicize any memorable human action, phenomenon or state. Fight against evil is present in the mythological vision of "Beowulf" and it is the main issue in Tolkien's above-mentioned works. In folk-lore the confrontation of the dragon and the hero equals to and even represents the agelong antagonism between good and evil as moral categories. In the light of the assumption that human imagination tends to mythicize valiant and heroic deeds, it becomes evident that the dragon-hero is a concrefcization of the general antagonism, an idea put into a concrete form, and at the same time a kind of generalization in the sense that some real manifestation of this conflict is mythicized and paraphrased into a dragon versus hero confrontation. Tolkien's answer to the question what the power of mythology is, ought to have come from this. His heroes give a practical solution: they concreticize the conflict of antagonistic moral values in the author's imaginary world and a Tolkien reader, bound by the author's nessage, is expected to treat his contrastive characters as something archetypal but applicable to the conflicts between good and evil in real everyday life, setting an example. Practically, that is the way to interpret his fantasy, but theoretically he is a mystic when he asserts that the monsters of "Beowulf" as well as those in his works are not only the "enemies of mankind" but also "inevitably the enemies of God" (Ibid. p. 72) and "something ...higher is eccasionally glimpsed in mythology: Divinity" (Tolkien, J.R.R., 1965, p. 25). When applied to Tolkien's fantasy world, the question of enmity might be true in his concretieized context of a good versus evil conflict but we cannot possibly interpret it as a normal or exemplary generalization for the reader. The problem of Divinity here serves probably only the author's aim of paying tribute to his religion. It is true that a fantasist is free to choose his subject matter and if the author's theoretical "mistakes" do nob interfere with his literary production to a great extent, and his message is not religiously didactic but universal, as the case is with Tolkien, his subject matter as well as his method is not subject to a reduction to the level of the principal philosophical antagonism. A fantasy itself can very well be used as a background to the conflict that he sets out to solve, another question is why the author has chosen that form, what gave him the impulse and how he defines his creation - result sequence. That brings us to the question: what are the functions of fantasy or a myth for a contemporary reader? Tolkien has called the modern functions of fantasy: Recovery, Escape and Consolation.

   Recovery, according to Tolkien, is a renewal of the health of human imagination. He has said that "recovery is ... a re-gaining of a clear view ... We need ... to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity" (Ibid., p.57), and later on his ideas were voiced by C.S. Lewis when he maintained that to see things more clearly we should dip them in myth. So far his ideas might be justified but his conviction of the "instrumental priority of imagination over perception" (Helms, R., 1974, P. 16), it it is a prerequisite for that recovery, makes, at least theoretically, his attempts at conveying a message absurd. The materialistic world outlook gives priority in this context to perception whereas imagination can rather distort a reflection of the material world than ensure a clearer perception of it. An artist is entitled to use imagination as a method to clarify his perception and present a highly individual image of an object or a situation. Drawing attention to a detail or a particular aspect he may give a distorted image of an object or a real situation but this distortion is not an end in itself, it is rather a kind of intensifier to the actual or real essence of what he has produced. Perception cannot exist without reality and imagination cannot exist without perception, consequently can imagination be given neither instrumental cognitive nor any other priority. Now, if Tolkien prefers imagination to actual reflection he gives an absurd pattern (the applicability of which to the real world he never refutes) stripping perception of its priority and thus preaching imaginative vision as a curative for a recovery not from the "triteness or familiarity" of the real world but from imagination itself. "We need ... to dean our windows" (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1965, p. 57) not to the real world then but rather to our imagination of this world and there is no sense in using imagination to clarify something that is already imaginary. Tolkien is a great master in "cleaning our windows" with the help of fantasy but our windows still look at the real world not an imaginary one.

   Tolkien has identified Escape not with "the Flight of the Deserter" but "the Escape of the Prisoner" because, according to him, the only emotions his contemporaries in the 20th century can feel are "Disgust, Anger, Condemnation and Revolt" (Ibid. p. 61). As it was said above, Tolkien does not use Escape in the sense of complete withdrawal but rather a means to tolerate the real world and, if possible, come back to it with "clean windows". He. advocates "the desire to escape, not indeed from life, but from our present time and self-made misery ≈ that we are conscious of the ugliness of our works, and of their evil" (Ibid. pp. 64-65). Tolkien is positive that Escape would allow a real Recovery, "we should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold ... sheep, and dogs, and horses - and wolves"(Tolkien, J.R.R. 1965, P.57).

   It is natural that Tolkien, as a representative of his class, wants to escape, the more so that he is the enemy of not only social but every kind of progress. He is a champion of nature conservation which, of course, is no drawback in itself because inconsiderate exploitation of nature and natural resources is certainly a step towards self-destruction. Tolkien is ever warning against alienation from our environment but unfortunately he is too extremistic and this view is prompted solely by his own alienation from progressive work. It is true that the technological revolution rendered the two world wars more destructive than they would have been before it, but it has also provided mапу conveniences the contemporary man cannot do without.

   Tolkien is a victim of his own reactionary society which, for him, produces only ugliness and evil, yet he cannot offer anything but escape and thus, figuratively, denies the advantages of progress to every man, to a tycoon as well as to an African savage tribesman. In short, for Tolkien nature is good, progress is bad, there is no progress without a development in human knowledge, so it makes knowledge only a source of evil, and this point of view makes Tolkien akin to a Catholic obscurant of the Middle-Ages. Unfortunately Tolkien does not see that there might be a social layer that could and would make use of progress to produce also something beautiful and good, a class that could use its knowledge to grant nature and progress at least a kind of peaceful co-existence.

   The third function of a fantasy, Consolation, acquires in Tolkien's conception a religious colouring. He has placed fantasy beside tragedy. The latter gives a catastrophe, a kind of purgation, to convey its message. Tolkien has coined a word to signify the opposite - eucatastrophe, the "consolation of the happy ending" which can bring "a sudden and miraculous grace" that is in fact "evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world" (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1965, p. 68). Tolkien identifies the effects of fantasy with a religious experience, yet, as a Roman Catholic, he is surprisingly heretical when he says that the Gospels "contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind, which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories" (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1965, p. 71). This statement is not far from the widespread viewpoint which identifies the Gospels with a kind of fantasy that has mythicized some memorable events in the past.

   Although, theoretically, Tolkien has defined his eucatastrophe as a manifestation of some religious feeling (i.e. Consolation), his literary work offers rather Encouragement than Consolation. His protagonists encourage the readers to fight evil and give them a hope of victory, they do not find any solace in submission to evil, nor can they consequently offer it to others. Their slogan is "Stand up and fight!", never "Turn the other cheek!"

   Strange as it may seem, the last function is the most natural one in its place in spite of its religious presentation, whereas the first two lack conviction. Fortunately the theoretical principles which the author followed in the process of creation may, and mostly do, remain unnoticed by the reader and therefore they do not interfere with the actual interpretation of his work. Tolkien's views on the functions of fantasy may be disputable but the outcome is probably one of the best fantasies written, its message topical and humane.

   J.R.R. Tolkien is unique in contemporary literature as the creator of an entirely new world which is a cross-bred one pertaining to a great extent to the human habitat, yet having the ingredient elements of a myth - independent realm of the imagination with its own laws and significances, or "the realm or state in which fairies have their being" (Ibid. p. 9). Tolkien's world could be called new because it is an imaginary one, it is not historical and neither is it of collective origin, but it certainly is not groundless. It is traditional "borrowing from the power and import of his sources" (Helms, R. 1974, p. IX) - all the written records of Germanic mythology, which left their traces and influences on Tolkien's imagination. With "The Hobbit" and his two essays he had rediscovered the value and relevance for our time of mythic literature and set out to convince his auditorium of this value because people had in his view "lost the keys to mythic response" (Helms, H. 1974, p. X). As he was distressed to find that the English had so few myths of their own and had to live on foreign borrowings, so he thought he'd make one himself.

   Tolkien is well aware of the inevitable precondition that the aethetic, moral and philosophical principles governing a fantasy world are different both from the inner laws and decrees of our own world of common-sense reality, and. from those prevalent in realistic literature. It is evident that fairy-tale morality or common sense could never change places with our world's social principles but at the same time we can export our real i.e. "primary world" bo the "secondary one" (as Tolkien called it) exactly to the extent we think it necessary, provided its consistency is not violated. Realistic views are based on the ontology that grants reality only on a basis of cause-and-effecfc sequences; fantasy may be founded on a different theory of reality but its aethetic, moral and philosophical principles must accord with the inner laws of the "Secondary 'World". The essence of this is that an author of fantasy is free to choose the "building-material" and sources for his "secondary world", but once it has been formed, the author needs a strong self-discipline to follow the principle that what happens in his world, has to accord not only with his imagination, nor with the real world's laws of common sense, but with the particular laws of his "secondary world". To maintain its credibility the author may never break his world's inner consistency. Tolkien himself has said that "the storymaker ... makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is "true"... You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside" (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1965, p. 37). There must be a "Secondary Belief" in the "Secondary world" - the product of the author's art, because, as Tolkien continues, "the moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken: the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside" (Ibid. p. 37). A successful fantasy-writer must therefore, in order to maintain that belief, always keep in mind the internal laws, morals and decrees as well as structural principles of the world he is creating.

   Tolkien's secondary world is still not purely imaginative but a cross-bred one which is only natural because he knew that "no audience can long feel sympathy or interest for persons or things in which they cannot recognize a good deal of themselves and the world of their every-day experience" (Kocher, В. 1977. P.1). There seems to be a kind of paradox in this as it was concluded above, that quite different laws and cause-and-effect sequences govern the world created by a fantasist and his first and foremost task is to induce a belief in the whole system, and yet he is restricted by the requirement to remind the reader of his own world, not to carry him too far away. This belief, again, is not the ultimate purpose in itself, but a means the author has chosen to communicate his message and as far as it is meant for human beings and not for imaginary creatures, the target (i.e. the reader) must be able to transplant himself in the secondary world, and that is why the reader must be assured by some elements to feel at home and not to be taken to completely new surroundings. Tolkien himself manifestly expected that secondary worlds would combine the ordinary with the extraordinary, the fictitious with the actual, he believed that secondary worlds (that he called Faerie) cannot be described directly, applying to them indescribability, but never imperceptibility.

   In general, the author has followed the structural principles of creating an imaginary world as a great master; his "Secondary World" is a unity of opposites as it is simultaneously mythical and real, remote and quite near, it is "familiar but not too familiar, strange but not too strange".


An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism ed. by Micholson, L.E. Notre Наше: University of Notre Ваше Press, 1963.

Helms. K. Tolkien's World. - Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Kocher. P. Master of Middle-Earth. The Fiction of J.E.R. Tolkien. - Hew York: Ballantine Books, 1977.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Tree and Leaf. - Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965.

Л. Линаск

Миф и реальность в произведениях Дж.Р.Р. Толкина


   Мир фантазии Джона Р.Р.Толкина, который изображен в трех его главных произведениях "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings" и "The Silmarillion", без сомнения, является литературным курьезом, поскольку не один писатель-сказочник прежде него не подал читателям произведений, которые обладали бы такой философской глубиной, представляли бы собой настолько энциклопедический обзор всех сфер этого мира.

   Консервативное мировоззрение и моральные-принципы автора сделали из него романтического идеалиста, оптимиста, который решает проблемы будущего с помощью прошлого, потому что всякий прогресс для него воплощает зло.

   В теоретическом плане Толкин присваивал своей фантазии три основные функции: Поправление, Бегство и Утешение. Эти функции, благодаря идеалистическому виду рассмотрения автора, имеют оспоримый характер, но их использование значительно превосходит их теоретическую основу.

   В своих произведениях он представляет идеал, определенную модель того, как должно бороться человечество против зла и всего плохого. Его понимание доброго и злого, а также его метод влияния на читателя может быть ошибочным, однако, в общечеловеческом плане Толкин конкретизирует борьбу между добром и злом в мире фантазии в положительный стимул для любого читателя.



Новости | Кабинет | Каминный зал | Эсгарот | Палантир | Онтомолвище | Архивы | Пончик | Подшивка | Форум | Гостевая книга | Карта сайта | Кто есть кто | Поиск | Одинокая Башня | Кольцо | In Memoriam

Na pervuyu stranicy Отзывы Архивов

Хранители Архивов