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Lord of the Rings Research Paper
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The Shire

May 4 2010, 12:21am

Post #1 of 50 (1074 views)
Lord of the Rings Research Paper Can't Post

I have a 10-15 page research paper due on Friday May 7th on anything Tolkien. I wanted to do it on Lord of the Rings. I was kinda hoping to find a good topic on Frodo as the hero.... I always saw his quest as a spiritual quest of sorts. What do you think? Is it feasible? Any other suggestions for a Frodo related paper?

Otherwise I was considering doing the following: Analyze one or more of the monsters in The Lord of the Rings in light of Tolkien’s reading of monsters in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” In Tolkien's 1936 essay, he defended the use of monsters in the Beowulf poem. I wrote a paper on it a couple years ago. So this could be an interesting paper topic.

Look forward to your replies!

Superuser / Moderator

May 4 2010, 12:28am

Post #2 of 50 (845 views)
Hi Grotug. [In reply to] Can't Post

What we like to do here is help students expand on their own thoughts or draft papers. So how about fleshing out your Frodo or Beowulf themes a bit and reposting them here for commentary?

For instance, how do you relate Frodo's quest to the topic of spirituality? What other spiritual quests in literature or in history have there been, and how do they compare to Frodo's? Can something be considered a spiritual quest in Middle-earth when spirituality isn't to the forefront of Tolkien's story?

Have a good go at fleshing out your line of thought then post here again, and I'm certain you'll get a very good discussion going.

Good luck!

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories

The Shire

May 4 2010, 2:07am

Post #3 of 50 (873 views)
How I relate to Frodo and to his quest as a spiritual one. [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, Frodo's quest can be a spiritual quest even when spirituality isn't overt in the story. Providence certainly is something that is present throughout the story. That is.. events happen because they were meant to, as we are told near the end of the chapter "Shadows of the Past." Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and while he didn't think religion had a place in myth, there was the sense of good spiritual forces at work in the story, just as Sauron is a dark spiritual force.

As far as why I see Frodo's quest as a spiritual one I can't quite say why. Well, one, he's a humble hobbit, and humility and the lack of ambition or interest in power are marks of a spiritual person or are a good starting point from which to embark on a spiritual quest. Two, there's a certain isolation he experiences as the ring bearer. He feels very alone in his quest. Anyone who seriously embarks on a spiritual path will have experiences of being very alone and isolated. Frodo's quest takes him on a journey where people don't understand what he is doing. Sure, he has guides, but no one fully understands what Frodo goes through, and many doubt it altogether (like Boromir). Merry and Pippin offer their friendship; Sam offers his unfailing loyalty and devotion, but they cannot offer more--they cannot bridge the darkness that takes shape in his mind and heart as he gets closer to Mordor. In a way, it is Gollum that Frodo can most relate to as far as the Quest goes. Frodo sees in Gollum a wretched, lonely, and consumed person--he is a warning to Frodo of what he may become; he is a mirror to Frodo in a way; he knows that Gollum of anyone, best undrestands what he is going through. Whether Frodo is conscious of this or not, it may explain why he has pity on Gollum, beyond the reasons Gandalf gives. Ultimately Frodo's sympathy and understanding of Gollum and his pity, come from a place within him, not from what others tell him about Gollum or the Ring. Gandalf can help him in the understanding, but only Frodo can come to that realization in full and have a personal relationship to it.

As for other quest narratives in literature. This is a good question. I just took a class covering Book I of the Faerie Queene, some of The Canterbury Tales and Milton's Paradise Lost. The Redcrosse Knight's quest to slay a dragon is a spiritual quest to become a noble Christian knight. It chronicles his errors and his needing to learn humility and to have reliance on God for providence and not to solely rely on himself. There are many things in FQ that can be seen as acting as an influence on LOTR. I'm not sure if there is a connection between the Redcrosse Knight's quest and Frodo's tho; except maybe the role of providence in both.

I'm not really sure how Canterbury Tales fits in. Not sure which of the tales is a spiritual quest narrative. Perhaps the Lady of Bath tale where the knight is on a quest to find out what women want. Though not entirely sure that type of quest can relate to Frodo.

I am also really interested in exploring what it means for Frodo that he, in a sense, ultimately fails in his quest at the very end; and that it's not he who completes the quest... but rather, it's providence, or fate if you think providence is stretching the point (I could offer many many examples in the text of providence, but don't have time right now). Gandalf had hinted that this providence would come through at the end, whether he himself saw it in this way or not. "Gollum will have some part to play before the end, for good or evil." If we look at Frodo's quest as a spiritual one, what does it mean for Frodo's spiritual journey that he fails at the end? What does it say about Frodo? About the nature of the Ring? What might the Ring represent in a spiritual quest? What is a spiritual quest?

A little bit about me as it relates to my interest in this paper topic. I sort of see myself on a spiritual quest, although I don't really even know what that means definitively. Which is I think, partly why I am so attracted to Lord of the Rings and Frodo's quest. Because I am intrigued in understanding how his quest relates to my own personal sense of being on a spiritual journey.
When I first attempted to read Lord of the Rings, after I read and thoroughly enjoyed and identified with The Hobbit when I was 14, I quit when Gandalf fell in Moria. I was so devastated that I didn't even want to keep reading. I couldn't imagine the rest of the quest without him. I always felt somehow it was a failure on my part to have never completed the Lord of the Rings when I had always thought hobbits were such lovable creatures, and feeling like I identified with them. It was in watching FOTR that my interest in LOTR was renewed. I just found Frodo to be very indefiyable with, the way PJ portrayed his quest and his relationship to it: being terrified, overwhelemed, alone, feeling like he wouldn't be able to do it.. the quest being at the edge of a knife... to be a ring-bearer is to be alone.. etc. During my adolescence I felt like the bottom dropped out--I went through a very dark time, felt terribly alone and abandoned... as in if there are angels guiding me in my life, they were MIA. In PJ's interpretation of FOTR, I found Frodo's quest to be one I could strongly identify with; I could strongly identify with what Frodo was going through. (I was 21 when FOTR hit the theaters). Sometimes I feel like if I had kept hope, and hadn't doubted the story of Frodo back when I quit reading LOTR right after Gandalf fell, the story would have been a source of strength, inspiration and hope for me during the dark time of my adolescence. I sort of see a parallel: where I felt my angels had abandoned me, so Frodo goes through his whole quest thinking the guidance and help of Gandalf had gone. (I don't think it's a stretch to say Gandalf can be seen as a sort of Angelic figure in the story; given that he is a Maiar etc.)

There's one more thing I want to say about how else I relate to Frodo in a spiritual valence. And that has to do with power. Power obviously is a major point of the story--the problem of power--Frodo's quest to destroy the evil aspects of power. Well, for me personally, power is something that I have not had any interest in. I don't want power nor would I know what do with it. So for me there definitely is something to say about Frodo's resistence to power, and, thus, why he is fit to be a ring bearer and fated to go on this spiritual quest of removing the destructive nature of power from the world. What, symbolically, does this mean as part of a spiritual quest, that Frodo's mission is to remove the destructive aspect of power? For Tolkien, the One Ring represented the "Magic" as the force behind industrialization--the combustion engine was a form of the magic that was imbued in the One Ring that he so lamented--I don't mean to make a direct allegory, but to give an example of one of the ways in which the Ring symbolically had meaning for Tolkien. But can we find a spiritual application to what Frodo's resistance of power has in the world of men? The Dalai Lama or Gandi would probably have something intelligent to say on this point. ;p

There is more I could say on why I perceive my own life as a spiritual quest and why I identify so strongly with Frodo (and even Tolkien) but I think this is enough for now! :D


May 4 2010, 5:50pm

Post #4 of 50 (803 views)
It may be a good idea, [In reply to] Can't Post

since you have already written an essay on The Monsters and The Critics, to take what you are familiar with even further than before. The 1936 Beowulf essay is all the more potent in light of what Tolkien did next.

Good luck!

The Shire

May 4 2010, 6:22pm

Post #5 of 50 (793 views)
Beowulf, LOTR and monsters [In reply to] Can't Post

By next... you mean wrote The Hobbit and LOTR? You wouldn't by chance have any interest in reading my Beowulf paper? :D It's about 7 pages.


May 4 2010, 6:29pm

Post #6 of 50 (805 views)
With pleasure! [In reply to] Can't Post

Post it here or send it via email: sirdennis88@gmail.com

However, I must show solidarity with Ataahua when it comes to lending a hand. Just a hint though: if you do a keyword search (via the search posts button above) you are likely to find a fair bit about your intended topics already posted here at TORn.


May 4 2010, 6:52pm

Post #7 of 50 (818 views)
Use the search, Luke. [In reply to] Can't Post

Click on the Search Posts button, then type the following in the Search string field:

Frodo spiritual jouney


Beowulf Tolkien

Probably get more information quicker that way.

(Er, don't type in that last sentence, or this one either.)

Revenge is a dish best served with pinto beans and muffins.

The Shire

May 5 2010, 12:28am

Post #8 of 50 (861 views)
Beowulf Paper for a Seminar class on Beowulf [In reply to] Can't Post


Old English: Beowulf

Jason Root


Stephen Harris

In defense of Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics Revised

It is of great pleasure and reward to read the profound insights of one of the most revered authors and authorities on old/mythical stuff dealing with, as Tolkien termed it, færie. In the seminal 1936 essay, Beowulf: The monsters and The Critics, Tolkien showed through his insightful arguments that the themes that come out of having mythical monsters are not at all trivial; they make perfect sense and are fundamental for the poet to include them in the way he or she has in the context of the story he or she is telling. I agree with him if not initially and only on the basis of loving The Lord of the Rings, of which many of the themes are inspired by and similar to Beowulf, but ultimately on the basis of the fascinating points of view he posits. Tolkien acknowledged that while Beowulf “may not be among the very greatest poems of our western world and its tradition, it has its own character and peculiar solemnity” (31) and that it is just as it should be. That is, it was far more than the critics were suggesting, and that they were fundamentally missing the point.
Tolkien felt compelled to clarify the confused and beer bemused critics who were praising the poem only for its superlative style and historical value and were mistakenly puzzled that the important stuff of the poem was kept “subordinate ‘upon the outer edges’” (14 and other essays) and the irrelevant parts, the monsters, specifically the dragon, were center stage, trivializing the work.
The main underlying theme we take from Tolkien's interpretation of the poem is sorrow. Tolkien tells us “Beowulf is not an 'epic, not even a magnified 'lay'” (31), rather, more than anything, Tolkien proclaims, Beowulf is an heroic elegy. Sorrow is a sentiment Tolkien feels strongly should be a weighty undercurrent for a story or myth to have; a sentiment supported by the fact that in addition to being a major theme in Beowulf, it is also a major theme in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings which was largely inspired and influenced by Beowulf and from which he honed his sober sensibility for sorrow. One need look no further than the Hrothgar’s speech to see this:
The mood and themes in both works, and this is a key point, are kept “on the outer edges, or in the background because they belong there” (31)1. Tolkien is stressing that these themes need to be at the outer edges; not center stage if they are to work as they do and give the effect that they have: “give that sense of perspective of antiquity with a greater and yet dark antiquity behind.”(31) The critics state it is puzzling that the important things that create this “darker antiquity” of Beowulf are at the outer edges rather than center stage, but Tolkien is arguing that they work better hovering always at the back of the subconscious, whispering ineluctable foreboding. Their effect would be cheapened if their subtly were slain by putting them at center stage. At line 2397 this atmosphere of doom whispers its portense:
And so the son of Ecgtheow had survived
every struggle, every terrible onslaught,
with brave deeds, until that one day
when he had to take his stand against the serpent. (Line 2397 Liuzza)
But then at line 2417 this inevitable doom is finally made explicit:
His heart was grieving,
restless and ripe for death — the doom was immeasurably near
that was coming to meet that old man,
seek his soul’s treasure, split asunder
his life and his body; not for long was
the spirit of that noble king enclosed in its flesh.
The purpose of Beowulf is “not to tell the tale of Hygelac's fall,” (31) or give an entire biography of Beowulf. The plot is not itself the point, and if the narrative seems to “lack steady advance;” Tolkien explains that it's not intended to advance, “steadily or unsteadily”(27). The narrative matches the meter; in that the poetic structure of the poem and its narrative structure (criticized for simplicity and putting the irrelevant stuff at the center) have a unity that, according to Tolkien, no other old English poems manage. The plot's intended structure and the intentional use of monsters, as opposed to great wars that are the vehicles for the themes in such sagas as The Iliad and Aeneid are the best vehicles for bringing out the themes in Beowulf that are important to Tolkien and (as he feels) should be to the critics. Defeat, “inevitable victory of death”, wyrd, or doom, are the sub-themes underlying and connected to the main theme of sorrow. All this, particularly wyrd, are tied with fate; but fate weighted with melancholy; the ultimate end is inevitable and cannot be joyous, despite Beowulf's conquests being ultimately great. The above passage illustrates this angmód, this wyrd.
So far we have showed the critic’s erroneous puzzlement of the monster placement in the poem, and illustrated what Tolkien believed were the major themes of the poem and what the poem is essentially about. Now we will take a look at why the use of mythical monsters is a superior choice to human adversaries for Beowulf in eliciting a more profound story than would a story instead concerning “petty wars of princes.”(33) The dragon, Grendel, “the monsters” are not elements of cheap folk-tale but mythical creatures that tap into a primal, more universal sense of adversary or evil. Grendel connected to Cain who in Christendom is the original evil-doer; and then the dragon, a beast of far greater power and awe than a human adversary could ever be, also containing within it a mythical mysticism, deeply rooted in our aboriginal subconscious2, being the fire breathing menace that it is. In the words of Tolkien: “It glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of all men concerning the fate of human life and efforts. . .and surpasses the dates and limits of historical periods, however important” (33) an effect the superhuman heroes of Homer cannot quite encompass.
There is a parallel to be drawn between these two beasts (Grendel and the dragon.) Let us probe at the poet’s possible purpose with these two and his apparent interest in ancient mythical adversary. He is interested in the origin of evil. In Genesis we have the Cain episode; the first human to commit a capital crime in God's creation; Grendel directly descended from the very first human evil doer. Then there's the dragon. More than being deeply rooted in the Anglo-saxon psyche, the dragon, which is ancient in its own right, in Genesis connects back to the serpent (and called as much in the above passage); although it is not necessary for the poet to spell out this connection in the poem. Aside from these loose affiliations with Genesis and The Old Testament, the poet in essence is keeping it a pagan poem in order for it to remain in the realm of myth. The poet using Grendel as Beowulf’s first adversary whom he vanquishes and then, as Tolkien believed, the poet’s right choice ends with a dragon, greater, older, more primal, more connected to in Genesis, the original representation of evil before Adam’s fall, the serpent. So you have the human manifestation of transgression; Grendel and his mother descended directly from Cain. And then there’s the dragon who, already ancient in his own right, descended from something beyond the ancient: the original serpent, the original representation of evil in the form of a monster. “They are creatures, feond mancynnes, of a similar order and kindred significance. Triumph over the lesser and more nearly human is canceled by defeat before the older and more elemental.”(32) Grendel, the more human, and connected to Cain, who is human, and the dragon, the more elemental, connected to the serpent, which predates Cain.
The reason there is no mention of Christ in the poem, is because the poet is interested in looking back, in hinting back to these primal, ancient, original elements in Genesis as a way to give the poem its context for mythical antiquity. He wants to use the universal symbolism in Genesis to connect to the mythical, antiquarian elements that he has a deep emotional connection to and which he wanted to keep at the outer edges of the poem, which I stated earlier. Since he is interested in elegiac, antiquated myth, he doesn’t want the poem to be muddled with Christianity and the non-mythical elements it encompasses. That is why it is important for the poet to keep the work really a pagan poem. It is essentially a pagan poem. You could almost say strictly a pagan poem. The allusions to Genesis are subtle (and if there be any to Christ, even more subtle) and are intentionally subtle for the function they perform. They need to remain subtle in order that the poem remain in the realm of myth and not stray into the anti-mythical, (if I may) world of allegory and concrete symbolism. Christ exists in a time too late in history to be connected with myth. Why doesn’t Beowulf succeed? Because the poem is a reflection of an antiquated time and would conflict with the themes inherent in that time the poet was deeply connected to.
Tolkien refers to the dragon at line 2,28[7]3 as an example of a “vivid touch of the right kind — as þa se wyrm onwoc, wroht wæs geniwad; stonc ða æfter stane,--in which the dragon is real worm, with a bestial life and thought of his own, but the conception, none the less, approaches draconitas rather than draco” (17 and other essays) Liuzza's translation of the salient section: “When the dragon stirred, strife was renewed; he slithered along the stones.” Tolkien perhaps liked the connotation of the dragon “emitting a smell or vapor; exhaling” which is the definition I got for stonc4, (but it looks as though Liuzza chose “slithered” instead, which is equally evocative) and I cannot think of better wording to conjure up the sense of a foul beast: reeking, exhaling, stinking, slithering. While Tolkien extols the Beowulf poet’s fundamental use of a dragon, he tells the critics if there be any critique of it, it could have been more draco; by which he means more “a personification of malice, greed, destruction (the evil side of heroic life) and of the undiscriminating cruelty of fortune that distinguishes not good or bad (the evil aspect of all life)”(17 and other essays), and less draconitas, by which he means less folk-tale-esque in the terms the critics were deriding it. Nevertheless, we both agree the mythical beast that is timeless is superior to the cheaper alternative adversary of mere mortals who lack the ability to elicit the force and gravitas the proverbial and ancient dragon engenders. This was so significant to Tolkien and had such a profound influence on him that he took his inspiration from Beowulf’s dragon and in the highest form of homage to it, infused his own signature brand of draco into the fell beasts that appear in his own legendarium he was working on at the time. For an example of Tolkien’s building on the Beowulf theme, one need look no further than Tolkien’s Balrog: demon of the ancient world, to see the depth (quite literally in the Balrog's case) of what Tolkien was on about in regards to mythical creatures as being the best choice for ultimate adversary. Tolkien is stressing that the beauty of Beowulf (beyond its high style, historical and philological value) is in its use of a dragon at center stage. He wisely observes that monstrous, mythical creatures carry “the large symbolism. . .near the surface, but [that symbolism] does not break through, nor become allegory.” (15) This is a key point. Allegory was something in his infinite wisdom Tolkien cordially disliked and ingeniously avoided in The Lord of the Rings. Not that allegory is bad (Plato’s “The Cave” is an important allegory), but Tolkien is trying to get across that a much greater allusion to profundity, to history, to antiquity, to truth, has been reached by the Beowulf poet’s use of a dragon (and let’s not forget about Grendel and his mother, too). This critical point was of both great influence on and importance to Tolkien as evidenced by the inclusion of dragons and absence of allegory in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s modeling of his own mythos off of Beowulf (by this I am specifically referring to the lack of allegory and use of monsters) is the highest form of commendation and compliment to the Beowulf poet and furthers Tolkien’s case for a defense of the use of monsters, specifically dragon, in Beowulf. Tolkien eloquently drives this point home, speaking of how wonderful it is to be able to choose a dragon as an ultimate adversary:
Something more significant than a standard hero, a man faced with a foe more evil than any human enemy of house or realm, is before us, and yet incarnate in time, walking in heroic history, and treading the named lands of the North. (15)
These dragons and monsters are man’s deepest, darkest fears quintessentially embodied into a symbolic material manifestation. They hearken back to an ancient time when heroes went up against adversaries way beyond their mortal strength and spirit and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Tolkien recognizes the importance and significance of the Beowulf poet’s use of monsters by building upon them in his own works. First, with his “plain pure fairy-story” dragon, fashioned just as he would have it, Smaug, in his own first novel and secondly, the before mentioned Balrog, both colored and wrought of the best stuff of his beloved Beowulf.


Afterword: If the arguments in this essay are a bit inscrutable, it is due in part to a lack of skill of the author in elucidating the concepts herein, but also consider Tolkien’s caution on attempting to explicate in concrete tangible terms the meaning of myth and what it is doing: “The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and, what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.”(15, and other essays) Only a careful reader of Beowulf, whether conscious of it or not, can experience fully what Tolkien was trying to elucidate.
1 Tolkien is referring only to Beowulf. He ‘technically’ hadn’t even started writing “The Lord of the Rings” at the time he gave this lecture.
2This is a reference to my American Identities class where we read Emerson's essay on Self Reliance and were asked to write what Emerson meant by this. I took Emerson’s meaning to be referring to a universal psyche, ancient, from which a common origin gives all people their inner, innate genius, intuition and wisdom on which they can be self reliant. I meant to apply the last part of that meaning to give it relevance here from an inner wisdom and self reliance to hinting back to a time in history when an ancient universal memory of an unknown world where scary, monstrous things lurking in the shadows haunted the psyche. The word 'aboriginal' ties to the words 'primal' and 'universal' used earlier in the paragraph.
3Tolkien quotes line 2,285 in his edition, but it is line 2,287 in the Fitt edition.
4http://home.comcast.net/%7Emodean52/oeme_dictionaries.htm Stonc is preterit 3rd person singular of the verb Stincan

Copyright Jason Root 2008


May 5 2010, 3:02am

Post #9 of 50 (816 views)
Aside from [In reply to] Can't Post

some formatting and proof reading issues (which I am sure you are aware of), it's a good read. Your points are interesting, clear and elegantly stated, especially in the second half of the essay.

Since you are relating Beowulf and Tolkien's essay to Lord of the Rings here -- perhaps because it is perceived to be a more ambitious work -- might I suggest looking at The Hobbit through the same lens? As you know, the essay predates the first edition of The Hobbit by about a year. However, it is clear that when he delivered his lecture, he was well on his way to completing The Hobbit, perhaps even prepping it for publication. Not to mention of course, a comparison between the monsters in The Hobbit and the monsters of Beowulf is more tenable IMHO.

Yes, very good. Here's a little something related to the topic (though I am no expert) that I came up with in honour of Tolkien Reading Day this past March.

As Darkstone (always worth reading) said "Use the search..." you will find many profound and reliable insights around here, for instance in posts by Squire, N.E. Brigand, Curious, FarFromHome, Elizabeth (dang, now I risk offending people by omission). Well suffice it to say there are several brilliant Tolkien enthusiasts and scholars here who graciously share their ideas and writing with those of us on the left side of the learning curve who are also willing to take a look.

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on May 5 2010, 3:02am)

The Shire

May 5 2010, 6:19am

Post #10 of 50 (798 views)
Smaug and _Monsters_ [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the positive feedback! yeah, this was a draft that I submitted. I couldn't find the final version of the paper. Hmm.. yeah, could be interesting to talk about Tolkien's Smaug in context of his talking about monsters in Beowulf. I tried doing a search but there was some error. I'll try again tomorrow. Thanks for the link to the response essay to Tolkien's 1936 essay. I didn't realize he gave the talk so soon to the publication of The Hobbit, but I guess I should have! Evil

In Reply To
a comparison between the monsters in The Hobbit and the monsters of Beowulf is more tenable IMHO.

I am much more interested in analyzing Lord of the Rings, because I think it is a much deeper and richer text. I also think the Balrog is by far the most interesting monster in Tolkien's universe. Isn't it at one point described as a strangling slime? It's a nebulous creature. It has wings, or so it seems... it's made of shadow and flame, and it can shape shift, It also seems to have more symbolic significance than any of the other monsters. The professor that taught Milton, Chaucer and Spenser this semester is teaching a course on The Hobbit next year, so if I take that class, I could always write a third paper on Smaug and Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics :D

(This post was edited by Grotug on May 5 2010, 6:29am)


May 5 2010, 6:58am

Post #11 of 50 (781 views)
Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

It is feasible.


May 5 2010, 7:06am

Post #12 of 50 (800 views)
I like what you say about Providence. [In reply to] Can't Post

The rest of what you say confuses me. I think you need to pick a theme, such as examples of the role of Providence in LotR, and stick with it. And then you need to cite examples from the text, rather than making generalized statements without citations to back you up.


May 5 2010, 7:27am

Post #13 of 50 (1149 views)
What is the theme of your paper? [In reply to] Can't Post

I like to put the theme of the paper at the end of the first paragraph. The last sentence of your first paragraph reads: "That is, it was far more than the critics were suggesting, and that they were fundamentally missing the point." Okay, but what then is the point? What is your point? What was Tolkien's point? I think you need to be able to state the theme of your paper in one sentence, and then everything you write should support that theme.

For example, if writing about the role of Providence in LotR, supported by examples, I might say: "Although Tolkien carefully avoided overt references to established religion in Lord of the Rings, through prophecies and visions, comments by wise characters, and asides by the narrator Tolkien consistently hints that everything in the story happens in accordance with Divine Providence." Then I could give examples of the three categories of hints in the body of the paper, followed by a paragraph summing up my evidence and restating my theme.

The Shire

May 5 2010, 3:55pm

Post #14 of 50 (741 views)
Another paper topic idea: The Wisdom of Hope [In reply to] Can't Post

Paper topic title: The Wisdom of Hope

I got Tom Shippey's "Author of the Century" in the mail yesterday. The first page I turned to and started reading confirmed a lot of the stuff I had said about Frodo and the Spiritual Quest idea. The first two pages of Positive Forces: 1 Luck (pages 143-144 in the Hardback edition) Shippey uses "luck" throughout that passage, and only once uses Providence, but I think he is in agreement with me on the point of Providence (and thus spiritual valence) to LOTR. Apparently, also, in another chapter, Tolkien said that LOTR was fundamentally a religious work. Letters pg. 172.

Anyway, to the topic of this post. One of the cool things about LOTR is that there is a lot of cause and effect with all the different narratives and timelines and the way Tolkien keeps all that stuff in his head. For instance, Shippey points out on pages 172-173 "in effect Denethor kills not only himself but Theoden as well" Since Denethor lacks hope, he commits suicide--Gandalf then needs to make a choice--save Faramir, when others will die if he does (Shippey implying that Theoden would have been saved if Gandalf was able to go to the battlefield and not be in the position of having to rescue Faramir). So... I'm wondering if you guys think there is lots of material in LOTR to write a 12 page research paper on the wisdom of hope? The above being just one example of the wisdom of maintaining hope when there doesn't even seem to be any real reason to hold onto hope. I really like Tolkien's relationship to hope which he brought out wonderfully in LOTR. Any thoughts?

btw, the search is still not working :(

The Shire

May 5 2010, 4:04pm

Post #15 of 50 (740 views)
Providence not the theme. [In reply to] Can't Post

I talked about providence in the beginning of my post on "Frodo's spiritual quest" only to defend the idea that Frodo's quest could be seen as a spiritual one and that the book has a spiritual valence (divine providence). The paper would not be about providence in LOTR but about Frodo's spiritual quest. If you want a thesis statement, a working one could be: Frodo's quest to destroy the One Ring represents a spiritual journey.

The Shire

May 5 2010, 4:18pm

Post #16 of 50 (731 views)
Put the theme into a sentence. [In reply to] Can't Post

Honestly, I had a helluva time trying to put my point or Tolkien's point into one or two sentences. If you can do it, be my guest! This paper is a paper I handed in two years ago and already received a grade on.


May 5 2010, 4:45pm

Post #17 of 50 (735 views)
I just used that as an example. [In reply to] Can't Post

Your thesis -- Frodo's quest to destroy the One Ring represents a spiritual journey -- raises several questions in my mind. How do you define spiritual journey? How do you distinguish it from other journeys or quests? What evidence will you cite that Frodo's quest is a spiritual journey, and not some other kind of journey?

Are you suggesting that LotR is an allegory? If so, how do you deal with Tolkien's claim that he dislikes allegory (see the Foreword to the Second Edition, as well as various letters)?

Is it literally a spiritual journey? What is a literal spiritual journey? Is it like Dante's fantastical but (within the context of the fantasy) literal journey to Hell and Heaven? I find that intriguing -- can we argue that Frodo literally journeys to Hell (Mordor) and then to Heaven (the Undying Lands)?

If I ran with that idea, I might add to your thesis as follows:

Frodo's quest to destroy the One Ring is a spiritual journey, in which Frodo walks into Hell (Mordor), achieves spiritual greatness through suffering, and ultimately sacrifices his life in the mortal world for the sake of love.


May 5 2010, 5:01pm

Post #18 of 50 (730 views)
I can't do it because your paper is scattered. [In reply to] Can't Post

Your paper, so far as I can tell, doesn't have a theme. If you don't know the theme of your paper, something is wrong. In college I used to spend days developing my theme, and then I could write the paper quite quickly, often in one sitting.

As a trial lawyer I do something similar, always developing my theory of the case. If I can't tell someone about the case in under two minutes, then I don't know my case well enough.

It takes a long time to develop a good theme or theory, but it is essential to a good essay or argument. An essay without a theme is like a house without a blueprint. You may put a great deal of work into it, but if you don't have a plan, it's going to look like crap. Which is a shame, because you should get credit for your work.

So figure out your theme! Try outlining the paper if you like, that might help.

Good luck! And thanks for the questions -- you've made me think about how Frodo's quest is a spiritual journey, and what that means.

The Shire

May 5 2010, 5:45pm

Post #19 of 50 (779 views)
the themes... [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the main themes for me in my paper are that the monsters aren't trivial, and their centrality in the poem is as it should be; that myth is not easily penned on paper and a formal dissection of it won't do. What college did you go to?

The Shire

May 5 2010, 6:04pm

Post #20 of 50 (759 views)
why must I post a topic with every reply? [In reply to] Can't Post

I wasn't thinking along the lines of allegory. I am very much in agreement with Tolkien on his views on allegory. I prefer 'symbolism' or 'applicability' as he put it, to allegory, when reading meaning into LOTR. You're right, I need to define what a spiritual quest is, particularly what it traditionally means in literature. I'm not really sure what evidence I would use. I might try to argue his experience is a kind of a non-religious new age spiritual quest (think Dan Millman). I was hoping to get some ideas for supporting this idea from people on here. What do you think of the viability of the "The Wisdom of Hope" paper idea I posted?


May 5 2010, 6:34pm

Post #21 of 50 (711 views)
University of Chicago.// [In reply to] Can't Post



May 5 2010, 6:38pm

Post #22 of 50 (744 views)
I don't understand. [In reply to] Can't Post

What do you think of the viability of the "The Wisdom of Hope" paper idea I posted?

Where did you post that?

The Shire

May 5 2010, 7:18pm

Post #23 of 50 (722 views)
The Wisdom of Hope [In reply to] Can't Post

One of the cool things about LOTR is that there is a lot of cause and effect with all the different narratives and timelines and the way Tolkien keeps all that stuff in his head. For instance, Shippey points out on pages 172-173 of the hardback edition of Author of the Century "in effect Denethor kills not only himself but Theoden as well" Since Denethor lacks hope, he commits suicide--Gandalf then needs to make a choice--save Faramir, when others will die if he does (Shippey implying that Theoden would have been saved if Gandalf was able to go to the battlefield and not be in the position of having to rescue Faramir). So... I'm wondering if you guys think there is lots of material in LOTR to write a 12 page research paper on the wisdom of hope? The above being just one example of the wisdom of maintaining hope when there doesn't even seem to be any real reason to hold onto hope. I really like Tolkien's relationship to hope which he brought out wonderfully in LOTR. Any thoughts?

The Shire

May 5 2010, 7:41pm

Post #24 of 50 (743 views)
my thoughts... [In reply to] Can't Post

the wisdom of maintaining hope when there doesn't even seem to be any real reason to hold onto hope.

Good start, but there's no argument here for you to make. All you'd be doing is regurgitating quotes of how things worked out when the characters held on instead of falling into despair. You need to decide whether you think it is wise, and then support why or why not by citing what Tolkien wrote. I think that you could make this an excellent paper.

Usually I also try to put my argument into my last sentence of the intro paragraph, and this is just an idea that I had:

Tolkien's characters hold on to the hope of good triumphing over evil even when wisdom seems to dictate taking a different course, which expresses Tolkien's belief that there are more forces at work in the world than simply those acting against his characters.

OR, following the idea of Frodo's spiritual journey you could maybe see if you can find some support from the Bible for Frodo being a Christ figure, bearing the cross.


May 5 2010, 8:51pm

Post #25 of 50 (708 views)
Tolkien is not arguing that hope [In reply to] Can't Post

is more reasonable than despair. Tolkien is arguing that we should hold on to hope even when it is perfectly reasonable to despair. If Denethor had been right about Sauron's victory, it would not have justified Denethor's suicide, let alone his attempt to kill his son. Hope is not based on a finely-calculated balancing test. Hope is based on faith, faith beyond all reason.

I do think there is plenty of material for a paper examining how various characters deal with despair, for all of the characters face despair at one point or another. But I don't think I would call such a paper "The Wisdom of Hope."

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