Tuesday, 4 May 2021

What is the unique quality of Lord of the Rings that so powerfully affected me from age 14 and for decades since?...

There is, there must be, more to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (LotR) than meets the eye - or has been explained by even the very best literary critics; some-thing that goes beyond what a simple work of fiction can achieve. 

This is evident in the initial impact of LotR when I read it aged 14; and was confirmed by the unique intensity and duration of my lifelong engagement with the book. 

I remain fascinated and gripped by LotR; even after uncounted re-readings, background scholarship on the early drafting, adaptations, artwork and a great deal of 'secondary literature' of comment, criticism and analysis. And mainly such a lot of thinking and imagining!

For me, there is nothing else even remotely like this in my life. I am by nature a re-reader, and a background reader; so I have re-read many books many times, and read many biographies of many authors and so on. I have also had recurrent thoughts and imaginings from other books. Yet none of them come anywhere near to the effect of Lord of the Rings. 

Whatever the reason for this may be, I think it hit home immediately; on the first reading. So that probably holds the clue. 

My memory is that I believed LotR was true, and more-true than the normal work around me. This was evident to some of my friends, including the one who introduced me to the book who I heard say this with a mixture of frustration and mockery. To him I was taking it all much too seriously.  

Most people would agree - but from where I am, more than forty years later, I was dead right. Tolkien is realer than ordinary real life - and this has become more true with every passing year as 'real life' became more fake, 'virtual', evil and is now almost-wholly dishonest and deluded. 

But I still find it hard to say just why this is the case, or why this fact was so evident to me so quickly.  


Zach said...

I agree with this: it's because it's true. This sub-creation of Tolkien's reveals the REALLY real in a way that's digestible to me. I can't completely comprehend Jesus; I can comprehend Frodo, and that's a step in the right direction.

I also understand grace better for reading about eagles plucking Frodo and Sam from the fire. And "G" can be for Galadriel, garden, and grace in that the Shire is blessed beyond hope after Sam has passed through the fire. It's redeemed, through Sam's effort, and through divine help.

Anonymous said...

I did not read it till I was beginning my undergraduate study as History and English Literature double-major, but as a generally slow reader of long books I certainly felt the force of it - e.g., reading another 70 pages and more, on through the night, to find out what happened next as strands of the story alternated. Did you start with The Hobbit and follow immediately with LotR? I did - and this was a couple years before The Silmarillion appeared. I wonder if many other readers (of whatever ages) since 1977 started with The Silmarillion and had a similarly gripping experience, or if most tend to start with The Hobbit followed by LotR amd then 'fill in' The Silmarillion (which I did reading all aloud to our children, back in the day, and to their enjoyment)?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - I started with The Hobbit and liked it so much that I put off reading LotR for (I think) a few months, because it wasn't really about Bilbo. I bought the 1977 Silmarillion on publication but have never warmed to its annalistic style - and (as we now know) significant editings and re-phrasings.

I *much* prefer the Silmarillion stories and other extra material as told in Unfinished Tales and in the History of Middle Earth.

Christopher Tolkien came to regret the 1977 Silmarillion - according to later writings - and that was what led to the later treasures of HoME, Lost Tales etc.


Anonymous said...

Reading your linked June 2011 post, suddenly got me thinking, how much The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962) - and perhaps the LotR Appendices before that - might be seen as sorts of 'trial runs' for what you suggest (though I am not sure there is any evidence that Tolkien saw them in that way). I cannot remember how much Christopher tells us about how he decided what to do next after the 1977 Silmarillion, but Unfinished Tales followed by The Book of Lost Tales seem excellent decisions.

David Llewellyn Dodds

P.S. Do 'we' anywhere have handy detailed post-HME lists of what Tolkien sent - or intended to send - as 'sample Silmarillions' to Allen & Unwin and Collins at various times?


Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - for me, the key document is Christopher's introduction to the Lost Tales (coming after Unfinished Tales), where he all-but expresses regret at the way he handled The Silmarillion (1977) - i.e. presenting it as a stand alone, as if self-explanatory text.

In the earlier Introduction to Unfinished Tales he explains that the Silmarillion of 1977 was guided primarily by the need to be wholly consistent both with Lord of the Rings, and internally.

UT itself, LT and the HoME all show what sacrifices of interest and quality were made in order to achieve this objective.

For whatever reason, Christopher was prepared to do the 'impersonation' of presenting Silmarillion without the 'feigned-historical-editorial' framing that his Father used (for examples) in LotR itself, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and the notes he provided for The Road Goes Ever On songs by Donald Swan.

The great advantage of posing as the editor of ancient texts is that coherence is not required - because inconsistencies can be put down to being based-on different perspectives of original written accounts, plus the vicissitudes of textual transmission through history - scribal, editorial and clerical errors, excision, interpolations etc... the bread and butter of philologists of Tolkien's era.

This feigned editorial pose would have enabled Tolkien to select the best (from the POV of interest and literary quality) of the surviving texts of Silmarillion-related matters.