Saturday, April 21, 2012

JRR Tolkien Week: Envoi


This concludes JRR Tolkien Week. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have, as I've tried to demonstrate the way JRR Tolkien's theory of mythopoeia, which I summarised a while ago in a previous post “Mythopoeia and the Charge of Escapism,” together with his Christian convictions, pervade and inform all his works, setting them among the greatest artworks of Christendom.

There are other Tolkien books that I have not reviewed here. The Children of Hurin is perhaps my most notable omission—published recently by Christopher Tolkien, it is the full story of Turin Turambar and will be reviewed in due course. The Unfinished Tales is another excellent resource containing fascinating backstory on The Hobbit in “The Quest for Erebor” as well as “Aldarion and Erendis”, one of the few stories from Numenor before the Fall. Unfortunately, the stories in this volume are...you guessed it...unfinished.


Tolkien also left a raft of minor works, including Smith of Wootton Major (a fairy-tale with some allegorical themes similar to Leaf by Niggle), Roverandom (the delightful adventures of a puppy who has offended a wizard, with many linguistic jokes), and Farmer Giles of Ham (the story of a reluctant dragon-slayer, with lashings of satire and even more linguistic jokes). There is the book of short verse, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which is brilliant in its own quiet way; especially the glittering little poem Errantry, which is written in the most difficult verse form ever invented (so difficult that only this poem has ever been written in it, and Tolkien ended up disliking it for being silly! Which it had to be, because only nonsense could fit within the fiendishly difficult rhyme scheme).

However there are three others of Tolkien's works and writings which are very important in explaining his worldview and approach. The first is, of course, The Letters of JRR Tolkien, compiled and edited by Humphrey Carpenter. It is the closest thing we'll get to an author's commentary on Middle-Earth—at least in this life. From the many excerpts I have quoted throughout this series of posts, you should have an idea of how much good stuff there is in it.

Second comes the essay On Fairy Stories. This venerable essay, originally a lecture, sketches out the cultural importance of fairy-tales and ends in a wonderful articulation of the Christian mythopoeic vision.

Finally, the long poem Mythopoeia is a remarkable work—an argument in verse, actually written to CS Lewis briefly before Lewis's conversion, articulating the power of Christian storytelling as opposed to the barrenness of atheism and modernity. It begins with the same theme James McAuley used in “Against the Dark”: “Life to be understood turns into legend.” It then goes on to sketch the place of legend and story in the Christian world, where faithful artists continue to praise and glorify their God in the face of evil and oppression, as a defiance and a statement of allegiance.

OK, this was just the way I imagined it.
What better way to close this Feature Week than with one last poem? Thinking about this particularly beautiful poem from The Lord of the Rings this morning, I began to see some typical themes emerging.
I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew;
Of wind I sang, a wind there came and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon, the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-Eve in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lorien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lorien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?
This poem is sung by Galadriel in memory of Valinor, also known as Eldamar. She remembers the great city of the Noldo Elves, Tirion, and also the original Lorien—the garden of Irmo and Este, two of the Valar. It is a place of peace and rest, and the Lorien in Middle-Earth where Galadriel lives in The Lord of the Rings is her attempt to recreate the paradisaical Lorien, from which she is exiled. But the Lorien of Middle-Earth is only ever a shadow of the real thing, and Galadriel knows that it will eventually perish. In many ways, it is the same theme as Leaf by Niggle, with a different emphasis.

3 comments:

Kim Marsh said...

Many thanks for the hard work you hsve put in on this series of posts. I have found all of them of great interest. You concentrate on the background and mythology of Tplkien's world and while I do not dispute anything you say or the importance of this to Tolkien's creative process I feel that we as readers should focus on the texts as written and published. This , to me, means excluding everything published since Tolkien's death. These works were not finished by Tolkien and can only be of marginal interest. Let us appreciate the marvellous achievement that is there. The creation of another, to me, completely convincing world and the wonderful characters who inhabit it and the gripping story that
unfolds.
Like you I feel that Tolkien's work is so accomplished

that it makes other fantasy redundant . Regards Kim

Suzannah said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this series, Kim.

I don't however feel that Tolkien would have wanted us to ignore all the material he never got around to finishing. I get the impression from Leaf by Niggle that his fear was, on the contrary, that nobody would ever enjoy it. There is also the place where he wished his legendarium to become an artistic venue, like the Arthurian legends, for other writers, painters, musicians, &c to enlarge on.

(This may sound a bit hypocritical coming from someone who so dislikes the movies. But I do believe that's just personal preference on my part; also LOTR had already been pretty well fleshed out. A movie of the material in the backstory--eg, the Fall of Gondolin--might be a different matter).

Kim Marsh said...

Unlike you I do not dislike the movies merely that the book is so etched into me that they are redundant anyway if one reads the book the visuals are better.
Sorry very old joke.
I take your point that much of Tolkkiens work may have remained unfinished because of his fear of disinterest but in my case at leasthe may have been right. However out of respect for you obvious enthusiasm I shall dig out my Silmarrilion and give it another try.
Regards Kim.

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