TOLKIENS' LIFE AND TIMES--THE MAJOR INFLUENCES--ROMANTICISM
Bibliography: (print): The table of contents lists the best TOLKIEN WEB SITES).
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine, 1977.
______. The Hobbit. New York. Ballantine, 1966.
______. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine, 1965.
______. (Humphrey Carpenter, ed.) The Letters of JRR Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.
If one looks at AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY OF JRR TOLKIEN as well as Carpenter's Biography, (click here), the romantic influences becomes obvious. In 1944, Tolkien told his son Christopher:
I AM IN FACT A HOBBIT. I LIKE GARDENS, TREES, AND UNMECHANIZED FARM LAND, I SMOKE A PIPE AND LIKE GOOD PLAIN FOOD, I AM FOND OF MUSHROOMS . (J.R.R. Tolkien Humphrey Carpenter, P. 197)
So did the Romantics. Horrified by technology (the "infernal combustion engine"), Tolkien yearned for a simpler time. On August 9, 1945 he wrote to Christopher regarding the atomic bomb:
"The news today about 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying
one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists
to consent to do much work for war purposes: Such
explosives in man's hands, while their moral and
intellectual status declining, is about as useful as giving
out firearms to all inmates of a gaol..."
(The Letters of JRR Tolkien, p. 116)
Obviously the canon, from the creation myth to the scouring of the shire echoes his conviction that man's corruption of nature will corrode his moral perspective:
...from the Silmarillion:
...And Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: "Seest thou not how here
in this little realm in the Deeps of time Melkor hath made war
upon thy province? [the sea]. He hath bethought him of
bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the
beauty of thy fountains, nor of they clear pools..."
(Silmarillion, p. 9)
...from The Return of the King:
"The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank of the
north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little
gardens that used to run down right to the water's edge were
rank with weeds. Worse, there was a whole line of ugly
new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton
Road ran close to the bank. An avenue of trees had
stood there. They were all gone...they saw a tall
chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out
black smoke into the evening air."
(Return of the King, p. 340-350)
Tolkien and Romanticism
[INSTRUCTOR'S HINT: DO NOT APPROACH ROMANTICISM EXPECTING LOGIC AND COHERENCE. THE ESSENCE OF ROMANTICISM IS PARADOX AND A LOVE OF THE 'ILLOGIC', SO FOR A ROMANTIC, 'X' CAN BE TRUE AND NOT TRUE AND BELIEVED AND NOT BELIEVED AT THE SAME TIME!!! YOU HAVE TO FEEL ROMANTICISM.] SUCH IS THE CASE WITH TOLKIEN. HIS LOVE OF GERMANIC / SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY DID NOT PRECLUDE HIM FROM LOATHING THAT "...RUDDY LITTLE IGNORAMUS ADOLF HITLER." [LETTERS, PAGE 55].
ALTHOUGH ANYONE WITH MORAL SENSIBILITIES WOULD AGREE, TOLKIEN CONTINUED, "...FOR THE ODD THING ABOUT DEMONIC INSPIRATION AND IMPETUS IS THAT IT IN NO WAY ENHANCES THE PURELY INTELLECTUAL STATURE IT CHIEFLY AFFECTS THE MERE WILL."
Several observations are important for Tolkien:
1--He did not fully endorse allegory ("I dislike Allegory--the conscious and intentional allegory--yet any attempt to explain the proport of myth or fairy-tale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more 'life' a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story)" He adds in a footnote: "It is I suppose fundamentally concerned with the problems of the relation of Art (and Sub-creation) and Primary reality." (Letters, p. 145).
2--We will explore art and sub-creation when considering his Essay on Fairy Tale Literature, but for now, I believe that one would be hard pressed not to read LOTR as an allegory, with the shire folk's love of isolation (Bilbo's loving to travel is seen as odd), being tested by the ever growing danger of European Nazism (Nazgul), even to the wearing of black uniforms as did the SS, and would not the seductiveness of Sauraman identify the danger of Hitler. The point here is that on the conscious level, Tolkien wrote that "Sauraman would never have committed suicide [Hitler did]: to cling to life to its basest dregs is the way of the sort of person had become." (Letters, p. 277).
3--Tolkien's belief that the demonic only influences the "mere will" but not the "purely intellectual stature" does not complete correlate with how others view Romanticism. The following was written by J.P. Stern, and appeared in his Hitler: The Fuhrer and the People. (University of California Press, 1975), p.43. Note the importance of the title of this book and what the implication is regarding Romanticism.
Romanticism places individual man in opposition to a world now only conceived and experienced as the world outside, and it sees man in terms which hitherto had been thought contradictory, as a creature both sentimental and heroic. The value by which this new man lives is neither piety nor virtue, neither loyalty nor constancy nor even the search for scientific truth, but his capacity for experience. Romanticism informs him at one and the same time with a boundless sensitiveness and openness toward ever subtler impressions from the world outside, and a capacity for heroic self-assertion: He lives in this conception of himself by his imagination and by his self-determining will. And under both these aspects--as artist and as man of power--he sees himself, not as the executor of a Divine Will or the servant of an acknowledged authority or the member of a preestablished hierarchy, but as a maker and creator. The will--not the common will of a body politic but his individual solitary will, mythologized to a heroic dimension--is his instrument. He is a maker of his kingdom: the powerful embattled personality we find in ...[The will] imposes its demands upon the world and attempts to fashion the world in its own image. Romantic, Faustian man forms, and in all but the literal sense creates, his own conditions and thus the world.
To this new conception of man the imperatives of traditional morality, whether Christian or Enlightened, do not apply and, given his assertion of autonomy, it is hard to see that any objective moral scheme, anything but a purely private morality, is likely to command his allegiance. His acts are no longer judged in relation to a publicly sanctioned moral code or agreed scheme of public virtues, or by his conformity to a conscience (for conscience can never be anything but the inward form of a publicly sanctioned moral code). His acts are judged according to a criterion of immanent, inward coherence: that is, according to the degree to which a man's utterances and actions express this total personality and indicate his capacity for experience. Utterances are seen as actions as poetry, and poetry as the consummation of living experience.
Answer the following questions by comparing the passage's content to what you know of Tolkien?
1-Are the various races in Tolkien's mythology sentimental and heroic? How would each member of the company be one or both?
2-Do hobbits have a capacity of experience? Is that what they most seek? The passage suggests that such precludes even loyalty, piety and virtue? How would that read relate to Tolkien's Roman Catholic views? Recall, for example, what Gandolf told Frodo in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: (The Shadow of the Past) regarding Gollum:
Frodo: "What a pity that Biblo did not stab that vile creature when
he had the chance.
Gandolf: Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity and mercy...
We might well ask what would have happened if Gollum had been killed?
3-The passage places much emphasis on the power of the will to create, and indeed Tolkien speaks must of subcreation, but recall The Silmarillion. As with Frankenstein, ultimate creative power is reserved for God. Vincent Price observed that the main theme of the novel is "Don't mess with God's creation." And Tolkien notes:
To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest
gifts of power and knowledge...He had gone alone into
the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire
grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own..."
But subcreation does exist, and so does the dark side of Romanticism: The Nazgul have vampire-like qualities
4-Tolkien of course would repudiate the last paragraph. Roman Catholic conventions of course were challenged by many romantics, often seen as repressive as readers of Lewis' THE MONK know. The cornerstone for the Romantics was the French Revolution--the rebellion against institutional tyranny. Rousseau observed that men are born free, but exist everywhere in chains. Would Tolkien agree?
I. Theories of art:
A. mimetic--art imitates reality as the Greeks established, but it is important to know what reality means for Tolkien. Frame a definition as we read. Of course we know already that he saw himself as a hobbit, and hated the industrial revolution.
B. pragmatic--according to Sidney in the English Renaissance, art fulfills the above but with two practical ends: to teach and delight. The latter is quite subjective--some are enchanted by Tolkien's "secondary world," others fail to respond, but Tolkien himself had clear didactic aims for his writing, despite his avoidance of allegory. We will in subsequent discussions consider his moral perspectives.
C. expressive--this one is for Romanticism--The expressive theory mandates that from an organic perspective, growth emanates from within, assuming a natural shape: man's role in the process is to sub-create in cooperation with God, and thus imitates him, but in Tolkien's view, only with God's permission and according to predefined rules which are generically subsumed under what Tolkien refers to as a "secondary world." Here he cites and disagrees with Coleridge as we will see when studying the Fairy Tale Essay. For now, we may note that Tolkien's use of music and fire as creation motifs place him clearly within the romantic tradition. Keats' letters often refer to music as a metaphor for the imagination's work, and Coleridge speaks of "the divine spark."
II. Review of 18th century concepts of the universe
A. Chain of being in tact--for Tolkien this would be the hierarchy and philosophy of the Catholic Church
B. metaphor of the clock--Tolkien would reject this as being too mimetic of the kind of technological conformity he hated, and here he is within romanticism's core as they endorsed the metaphor of the plant.
C. nature (note especially how this will contrast with romantics)
D. Enlightenment? Best of all possible worlds? satire?--Tolkien will argue that God did indeed create the best of worlds for man (and the various races), until disrupted be man's folly. He would accept Rousseau's mandate that all is good as it comes from God, but corrupted by the hands of man.
III. Romantic concepts of the universe (FRENCH REVOLUTION)
A. Chain of being gone--with reservation. Tolkien does hate the tyranny of a Sauron or Hitler, but not the Catholic church.. When speaking of the dark periods in his life, the war, including his reservations about marriage to a non-Catholic , he wrote to his son, Michael:
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated , I put
before you the one great thing to love on earth: the
Blessed Sacrament...There you will find romance, glory,
honour, fidelity, and the true way..."
Like Coleridge, Tolkien believed in Divinely established mandates that man cannot "put asunder," unlike Shelley, for example, who saw marriage to Harriet as an encumbrance to his liaison to Mary. Parenthetically, Harriet committed suicide.
B. metaphor of the plant--think ENTS!!! This chapter moves very slowly as do the ents, but Tolkien's love of trees allowed him to luxuriate in descriptive splendor.
C. nature (note the contrast to the 18th century)
Tolkien would of course embrace nature from a romantic perspective.
D. Respect for utopian progress in a natural environment
E. suspicious of intellectualism--obviously yes and no for Tolkien. Certainly his academic reputation including the translations, work on the OED, and BEOWULF placed him at the forefront of his profession, but intellectualism at the service of technology aroused his ire.
IV. Philosophical base:
A. THE ROMANTIC PARADOX IS IN PART TO REJECT CLASSICAL RATIONALISM WHILE ACCEPTING IT: CERTAINLY ONE CANNOT GRASP THE CONFLICTING ESSENCES OF ROMANTICISM WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WHY, FOR EXAMPLE, PLATO'S PERSONA, SOCRATES, USES SENSUAL VERBS TO DESCRIBE MOMENTS OF CONTEMPLATIVE ECSTASY. THE FOLLOWING DIALOGUES SHOULD BE CONSULTED:
1--The Republic--the cave, line and sun allegories, the nature of the forms (beauty, truth, the good), the dialectic, and the tripart division of the soul
2--Meno--on the nature of virtue, the doctrine of recollection, and the preexistence of the soul
3--Symposium--eros, love and the contemplation of beauty
B. AS WE WILL DISCUSS IN A FUTURE CLASS, THE DOGMAS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND TOLKIEN'S FRIENDSHIP WITH C.S. LEWIS ARE LIKEWISE ESSENTIAL.
C. Rousseau and nature
V. Romanticism and religion--what is a religious experience? (Joseph Campbell is worth investigating.)
A. The "sacred space"
D. For Tolkien, each of these is important as follows:
VI. Romanticism and the creative process--we will discuss these ideas when considering the FAIRY TALE essay of Tolkien
A. Freedom given to imagination
B. man as a sub-creator--one of Tolkien's core beliefs
C. Poets and their phrases for the imagination:
D. Glorification of:
E. Reconciliation of opposites--power of synthesis
VII. Metaphors used by the romantics:
C. food--Hobbits love food, and Shelley's use of food as metaphor for eating more than we can digest (referring to technological advances) would Please JRRT.
D. mirror and the lamp--obviously the Mirror of Galadriel
E. dreams and/or nightmares--when the ring is worn, the user enters a nightmare world not unlike Harker's experiences in DRACULA. From The Tale of Beren and Luthien in The Silmarillon:
Then Sauron yielded himself, and Luthien took the
mastery of the isle and all was there: and Huan released
him. And immediately he took the form of a vampire,
great as a dark cloud across the moon, and he fled
dripping blood from his throat upon the trees..."
Recall that the howling of wolves terrify Harker as he approaches the Count's castle.
VIII. Problems with romanticism:
A. Evaluate be discussed in future lectures (with notes on the site), but for now we know that the romantic preoccupation with defiance of conventional standards would alienate Tolkien
B. Universal standards for art--Tolkien's Fairy Tale Essay will consider this topic. Here too Tolkien disagrees with Coleridge's idea of "willing suspension of disbelief that constitutes poetic faith."
C. Ego--for Tolkien, HUBRIS accounts for sin. From Melkor to Sauron, to violate one's place on the "chain of being" is a serious error.
D. Perversion of idealism--Hitler. We recall what Tolkien thought.
SUMMARY OF ROMANTICISM'S IDEOLOGY
This summary is based on the prose and poetry of the Romantics and one of the classic texts on the subject by M.H. Abrams called The Mirror and the Lamp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. For each, be able to discuss whether Tolkien would agree...
1. Expressivism means to press out.
2. Poetry expresses thoughts and sentiments that have the origins in the mind.
3. Poetry is an utterance of a passion for truth, beauty and power.
4. Poetry is thoughts and words in which emotion spontaneously embodies itself.
5. Poetry is music of the language answering to the music of the mind.
6. Poetry reflects a world already bathed in an emotional light he himself has projected.
7. Art infuses thoughts of a man into everything that is the object of his contemplation; yet nature can externally modify these thoughts.
8. Objects are influential not from what they are in themselves, but from such as are bestowed upon them by the mind of the observer. Poetry impregnates them with an interest not their own by means of the passions.
9. Poetry puts spirit and life and motion into the universe.
10. "An auxiliary light/Came from my mind which on the setting sun/Bestowed new splendor."
11. " There are in our existence spots of time/That with distinct preeminence retain/A renovating virtue..our minds/Are nourished and invisible repaired."
12. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting/The soul...cometh from afar/Not in entire forgetfulness...But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God/Heaven lies about us in our infancy..."
13. "The world of the imagination is the world of eternity...It is infinite and eternal. There exists in that eternal world, the permanent realities of everything which we see reflected here. All things are comprehended in their eternal forms in the divine body of the savior...the human imagination."
14. Mental things alone are real.
15. Any system build on the passiveness of the mind must be false as a system.
16. The imagination resists empirical verification and can only be known in particular example.
17. To generalize is to be an idiot; to particularize is the alone distinction of merit.
18. The scientific threat is that scientific description discredits the phenomena for which it accounts.