Oct 31 2012, 5:35pm
--- That archaism is difficult for many, I admit. However, I do think it does exactly what Tolkien was intending to do. He was using different modes of language, on a scale: modern - legendary - mythic, to say something about the progression of language, and meaning, through time. In short, though it may sound odd, the prose is meant to be stilted for modern ears, just as it was for the hobbits who were hearing it. ---
The basic concept behind Tolkien's use of language in the LOTR is certainly impressive.
I wholeheartedly agree with this analysis. I am in no way a Tolkien expert (nor do I think it is necessary to be one to review his most famous book), but I concur in your statement, that Tolkien used language to show the specific differences between the most important characters such as Frodo, Sam, Aragorn and Gandalf. They all view the world in a different light and hail from different social backgrounds. They even stand by their own unique moral principles - and as you rightly pointed out, the language Tolkien uses, does reflect all of that.
So, I do not doubt that Tolkien intended the book to be written this way. Nevertheless he still writes in his foreword to the second edition (of the LOTR):
"The Lord of the Rings has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print; and I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them."
In other words, the main purpose of "The Lord of the Rings" was always to delight its readers - not to bore them to death. Therefore I think it is hardly possible that Tolkien intended certain parts of his prose to be unpleasing to the ear. He maybe thought of them as more archaic, more rooted in an older and different world and therefore more challenging to the reader - but I doubt that boring his readers was his main goal by including these parts. There are certainly many passages where he achieves his goal, creating a mysterious and elevated world with his archaic prose (that is, different from the world of the hobbits/readers) but managing at the same time to create suspense, empathy for his characters and a certain tension between them that holds the reader's attention. The chapters which come to my mind here are above all "A Journey in the Dark", "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm", "The Breaking of the Fellowship, the first three chapters of books three and "The Ride of Rohirrim". All of these chapters deal extensively with the non-hobbit characters, but still manage to do what I stated above. My favorite chapter of them all "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm" manages this in perfect fashion: Tolkien's use of the drum-beats to build up tension and a sense of agitation makes these chapters so brilliant to read. Or compare the strider of FOTR and early TTT to the king Elessar of ROTK: I do not doubt that Tolkien intended this change of prose when describing Aragorn and his actions, but the later version still bores me to tears. He is Tolkien's ideal representation for a king of old, I get that, but in what way should a perfect human being interest me - especially when everything about him from "The Steward of the King" sounds like it was written by Virgil about Augustus.
I also believe that Tolkien and Kafka can be appreciated by the same mind. I rarely ever read fantasy books and my favorite writers are most of the time American writers such as Hemingway, McCarthy, Kerouac or European writers such as Bernhard, Roth, Handke, etc.
Most professional critics have banned Tolkien for his antiquated prose, the lack of psychological depth in his characters - or have even critisized him for alleged reactionary political undertones. I do not argue with the first two points - I find Tolkien's prose often more boring than I would like too, and some of his characters are as fascinating as a doorknob. Nevertheless, I would argue that most of these critics did not get why the LOTR has been so popular over the last half of a century. They failed to grasp what makes the LOTR so unique and what turns it into a masterpiece - despite of its often poor prose - and that is Tolkien's ability to create a mythological world that seems to be part of the old canon of mythologies; like the collected stories of a forgotten people - or as the Grauniad so brilliantly put it:
"How, given little over half a century of work, did one man become the creative equivalent of a people?"
Ceterum censeo montem artis magicae atrae esse delendum.