Thursday, 6 December 2012

What was Tolkien aiming at with The Lost Road? Clues from the protagonist's names


The standard 'explanation' which Tolkien gave (in later years) for beginning to write the abortive novel The Lost Road was a kind of prank whereby he and CS Lewis decided that they should write the kind of book that they both liked, concerned with space and time travel; and they tossed a coin to decide who would do which.

Lewis got Space leading to Out of the Silent Planet etc and Tolkien got Time but failed to deliver.

Reference to Letters 257 and 294 of  The Letters of JRR Tolkien 1981.


Well, this is some kind of explanation; but the most striking feature of The Lost Road is its ambition: it was conceived on an epic scale as by far the biggest and most complex single work Tolkien had ever attempted writing.

It is inconceivable that Tolkien would embark on such a lot of work just for a bet: clearly he had bigger fish to fry.

But what?


I think the clue is in the names of the protagonists:

 The thread was the occurrence time and again in human families... of a father and son called by names that could be interpreted as Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. 

These, no longer understood, are found in the end to refer to the Atlantid-Numenorean situation and mean 'one loyal to the Valar, content with the bliss and prosperity within the limits prescribed' and 'one loyal to friendship with the High Elves'. 

Letter 257. 


The meaning of these names demonstrate two of Tolkien's deepest and most recurrent themes: the necessity of living 'within the limits prescribed' by God, especially death; and the importance for human life to be ennobled by that which is represented in the nature of the High Elves - which is disinterested love of the world, understanding (pure 'science') for its own sake (not for power), and craft and creation.

No comments: