Friday, 29 April 2016

What if The Lord of the Rings really *had* been an allegory of World War II?

In his Foreword to the 1966 Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was at pains to emphasize that the book was not an allegory: in particular it was not an allegory of the 1939-45 World War:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

It is interesting to unpack this putative allegory of a imagined allegorical LotR, using what I know of Tolkien from other sources to fill-in gaps or uncertainties:

The One Ring = The Atom Bomb

Sauron = Hitler
Mordor = Germany under National Socialism

Saruman = Stalin
Isengard = Soviet Communism

The Free Peoples = USA and UK
The one who seizes the Ring and enslaves Sauron - presumably would have been Aragorn, Boromir or Denethor = Roosevelt/ Truman


In reverse, we could play with the idea of what would have happened in WW II if it had followed the lines of LotR...

The plot would focus on the destruction of the Atom Bomb (and implicitly all knowledge required to make it) by a small team of English patriots led by George Orwell, who infiltrate Germany and destroy the evil research establishment which is making the A-bomb.

The climactic end would be the death of Hitler (as the ready-for-use prototype explodes?) and the end of the Nazi regime in Germany with the return of the Holy Roman Emperor.

En route there would be the destruction of Soviet Communism, the restoration of the Tsar, and the exile of Stalin. Stalin then makes his way to England, is welcomed by the corrupt Socialist Prime Minister, Konni Zilliacus; then Stalin invites foreign mercenaries, takes over in a secret coup, enslaves the native English and manages to pollute or destroy much of the countryside before Orwell and his English patriots return and raise a successful counter-revolution; after which Stalin is stabbed by his deputy Lavrentiy Beria - who is immediately executed by a mob of pitchfork-wielding rustics (despite Orwell's protests).

England repudiates industrialization, is demilitarized, sealed against immigration, and made into a clan-based dominion ruled by benign hereditary aristocrats; and made a protected nation under the personal care of the restored King Albrecht - the exiled Duke of Bavaria, and heir to the US monarchy, who had been given the throne by popular acclaim during the course of the war, and is now ruling from his palace in Richmond, Virginia.

Orwell, traumatized and made consumptive by his wartime experiences, sails West toward the sunset in a small boat and eventually arrives in... Ireland; where he ends his days peacefully as a subsistence crofter...

No wonder, then, that Tolkien cordially disliked allegory, in all its manifestations.


Chent said...

Very well played, sir.

Fred Best said...

Like it!

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoyable! The second one reminds in in part of The Mouse that Roared (and almost makes me wonder if The Mouse That Roared is an alternative LotR). I do love Tolkien saying to Christopher (25 May 1944: Letter 71)," 'romance' has grown out of 'allegory', and its wars are still derived from the 'inner war' of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (external) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels."

David Llewellyn Dodds